Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.E-mail: email@example.com
Sitting at the edge of a once-forlorn downtown neighborhood, Seattle's new and flashy Olympic Sculpture Park could be the city's latest development juggernaut. Like other major urban parks--such as Chicago's Millennium Park and Minneapolis' Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center--the 9-acre green space overlooking Puget Sound is bolstering nearby property values, encouraging a building spree in adjacent neighborhoods and adding an artistic note to urban life. In the first two weekends of its opening in late January, some 70,000 visitors flocked to the park. Nearby residential properties began advertising their closeness to it.
Part of the park's attraction is its 360-degree panorama of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier and the surrounding city. It hosts more than 20 major sculptures by some of the art world's biggest stars, an outdoor amphitheater and extra space for temporary installations and other projects. "We wanted to make art a part of everyone's daily life," Chris Rogers, the park's project manager, says. "But the project also allowed us to do so much more with green space and environmental problems confronting the Puget Sound region than we ever anticipated."
The park sits on a reclaimed brownfield--an 850-foot strip of beach originally owned by the oil company Unocal. Before Unocal could sell the property, it had to clean up 120,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 28 million gallons of contaminated water. The Seattle Art Museum, which bought the beach (with state help) and operates the park, added a modest bit of sand and sea grass to restore some of the area to an important habitat for salmon--as well as reconnect the city with an additional stretch of waterfront.