Why isn’t this being developed by the City or Metro?
Seattle’s Waterfront is separated from the rest of the City by more than just the viaduct. The topography between the Waterfront, Pike Place Market and Convention Center neighborhoods is a steep cliff making bus, taxi, light rail or subway service impossible. Currently, there is no bus route serving this connection and access is limited. The privately funded, operated and maintained Union St Gondola will cost the city and taxpayers nothing but will provide tremendous benefits such as:
- Help to keep the waterfront accessible during the decade of heavy construction disruption.
- Provide a new East/West connection which will connect Seattle’s Downtown, Hotel/Retail and Convention Center core to its Waterfront and Pike Place Market neighborhoods.
- Utilize an electric and green technology cutting down on carbon emissions from vehicle traffic and activating underutilized parking garages too far away and with too steep of hill to walk from the Waterfront.
- Bring more people into downtown and increase pedestrian/cycle and business activity throughout the city.
What’s the timing and substance of the City’s review?
We are currently in an intensive permitting and review process with the City. We have hired the best local professionals who are helping us complete this process. Our goal is to open the Gondola in conjunction with the demolition of the viaduct.
How do we know the public will have adequate input on this project?
The permit process includes several opportunities for public involvement. We have been meeting with Seattle residents, business owners and downtown destinations for the past 2 years to include their feedback. We value the public’s input and have already made significant improvements to our concept based on this feedback.
How can a private company use the City’s right of way?
The gondola will run above the center line of Union St and operate entirely on City right of way. We are working with the City to acquire long term access for this right of way similar to a sky bridge.
We will never own the City property only have an agreement to operate on it.
How will the project get financing?
Private and company capital, combined with bank financing, will fund this project. Our bank is very supportive and enthusiastic about the gondola project.
If the project doesn’t get enough riders, are you going to ask for taxpayers to support you?
No, we will never require or ask for one cent of taxpayer dollars.
How many passengers will it take to make sure this is financially self-sustaining?
It is too soon to know at this point because we don’t know all the costs involved. We want the project to break even, but are prepared to subsidize the gondola out of our existing operations if necessary.
How much will tickets cost?
The ticket price is yet to be determined but we recognize to achieve the goal of high ridership the ticket price needs to be as low as possible. When our cost picture is more clear, we’ll be able to estimate necessary ticket prices. We are thinking of structuring the ticket to be good for rides on the gondola all day. This will allow maximum flexibility for the riders allowing them to travel on their own schedule and encourage them to spend more time downtown.
Who’s going to profit from ticket sales?
The gondola will be operated like any small business but because of the extremely high start up costs it is unlikely to be profitable for many years from now, if at all. The motivation for the gondola is not to profit from ticket sales but to increase visitors and pedestrians to the waterfront and subsequently downtown as well.
What will the city/do the taxpayers receive financially for allowing a private entity to profit from use of public assets?
We are working with the City on an agreement to use their right of way. We both recognize the importance of keeping costs low to enable an affordable ticket to encourage high ridership.
If the city delays the project, (for example, if the tunnel is delayed) will the taxpayers be liable for cost overruns?
No, the Gondola project will never require or ask for any taxpayer money.
There are condominiums on Union Street. Are there any privacy issues to be concerned about?
We have been working with residents to understand their concerns and solve them together. There is great excitement from the downtown residents for a new East/West connection. We are confident there are solutions to any privacy issues.
Meeting a key Seattle need: East-West transportation. The Union Street Gondola will connect the waterfront with the Convention Center and a mid-station between First and Third Avenues.
Below is a map showing the magnitude of the project. Spanning multiple city blocks, from the Convention Center to the Waterfront, the Union Street Gondola promises to be an amazing attraction for Seattle.
- Union Street is a busy downtown corridor but lacks transportation of any kind to the waterfront, because the land west of First Avenue is a steep bluff, served only by a steep staircase in a very pedestrian-hostile environment. This project will provide the missing link.
Ties to New Waterfront Park
- The Union Street Gondola will connect the new waterfront park with the city core.
- It will enhance both public access to the park and the visitor experience itself.
- The project supports three key goals of the Waterfront Strategic Plan: increasing waterfront visitors, improving a vital east-west connection, and attracting private investment.
- As a private investment, the project will allow the city and taxpayers to reallocate resources, potentially completing the build-out of the new waterfront park more quickly.
Connects to Public Transportation
- The Union Street Gondola will be able to move 1,800 people an hour along a major east-west corridor presently lacking public transportation.
- It will connect the Convention Center, the Downtown Transit Tunnel, Pike Place Market, the Art Museum, and the new waterfront park.
- The project is especially suited to serving families with young children, the elderly, and the disabled – those physically unable to climb the bluff or otherwise walk long distances.
- In addition, the service will benefit commuters who use transit to reach downtown, and out-of-town visitors.
- The project will enhance existing public transit service. The mid-station will be within a block of a Downtown Transit Tunnel station and major north-south transit services, making existing transit more attractive.
Leverages Existing Parking
- Construction and redevelopment in the waterfront area will reduce currently existing parking, even as demand to use the waterfront is expected to double. The project helps address this major problem by enabling use of more distant existing parking facilities in the downtown, helping to offset the more localized losses.
- If built promptly at the beginning of the tearing down of the Viaduct in 2016, it can also provide a temporary benefit to waterfront businesses that will have been suffering from continuous constructions impacts during the 2012-2016 period and which will be worsened by the viaduct teardown.
- In order to be timed with the initial phase of taking down the viaduct in 2016, the permitting needs to occur in 2013 so that engineering and purchasing can occur in ’14 and ’15.
- It is quiet, fast, and powered by electricity.
Meeting a Critical Need
Union Street is a vital downtown street serving many important Seattle destinations, including the Convention Center, Benaroya Hall, Seattle Art Museum, and the Pike Place Market. Union Street crosses 85 north-south bus routes and the regional light rail system. The Union Street right-of-way also reaches the current Waterfront Park, slated to be the jewel of the new central waterfront, but because the land west of First Avenue is a steep bluff, in reality there is no connection. The Union Street Gondola will provide service to 1,800 people an hour to all these destinations.
By linking the uptown to the waterfront, the Gondola will not only encourage downtown guests to use public transportation, it will also encourage better use of existing parking, which will be essential in meeting the projected doubling of waterfront visitors from the current 3 million a year. Since it will do this using private investment, the Gondola project would allow the City and taxpayers to reallocate resources to other needs, potentially completing the build-out of the new Waterfront more quickly.
Gondolas are becoming common solutions to unique urban transportation problems, with more than 44 urban gondola systems worldwide. The Portland (Oregon) Aerial Tram, connecting two campuses of the Oregon Health Sciences University, has carried more than one million passengers per year since opening in 2007. The Union Street Gondola will have twice the capacity of the Portland system. Spacious enclosed cars will each carry 8 people and depart every 16 seconds.