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Waterfront streetcar gets new home that saves money and opens views from new sculpture park

George Benson Waterfront Streetcar The beloved George Benson Waterfront Streetcar will have a new home in historic Pioneer Square, and people of the region will be able to enjoy beautiful views and sculpture in a new waterfront park in legislation proposed by King County Executive Ron Sims today.

The proposals meet the county's goals of supporting the Seattle Art Museum's new sculpture park, while preserving the waterfront streetcar line. It will also cost less than half the amount compared to an earlier proposal to locate a facility on Port of Seattle property.

Metro Transit will provide free bus service beginning Nov. 19 through the construction of the sculpture park. The buses will feature specially designed graphics and will still link the International District/Chinatown, Pioneer Square and the Waterfront communities. The fare will be free, because the route will be within Metro's Downtown Seattle Ride Free Area.

"This is a victory for streetcar riders, the Pioneer Square community, transit passengers, and the citizens of the region who will get to enjoy a spectacular new park," said Sims. "Having the streetcar maintenance garage in Pioneer Square not only saves $11 million dollars, but it also opens new possibilities for extending the popular streetcar service and builds much-needed market rate housing."

The Main Street location was one of the highest-rated sites in a Metro Transit study in October 2004 analyzing potential sites. The city and the port would each pay $1 million, and the county would pay $7 million. A Port proposal to locate the facility north of the new sculpture park would have cost more than $20 million.

In an agreement reached with the Seattle Art Museum, the museum will demolish the streetcar maintenance barn, Broad Street passenger station, and tracks and then replace them with new tracks and a passenger station that links to the pedestrian sky bridge in the new Olympic Sculpture Park. In a separate agreement, a private developer will include a new $9 million streetcar maintenance facility in a mixed use building at Main Street and Occidental Park.

"This proposal accomplishes what I've advocated for three years: an affordable plan that ensures both great assets are available to the public," said King County Council Chairman Larry Phillips. "By moving the trolley barn from the site of Olympic Sculpture Park, we are opening up the view of the Olympics and access to Elliott Bay to citizens for decades to come. Our region will keep waterfront trolley service and gain a new park to treasure."

Locating the new maintenance facility at Occidental Park will enable the county to resume full operations of the current streetcar line and provide the capability to extend the line in the future.

The developer, Center of Pioneer Square LLC, of Seattle, will build badly needed market rate housing in a building that includes retail space that will open directly onto Occidental Park. The county would enter a lease-to own agreement for the streetcar maintenance garage.

The maintenance barn will be demolished one week following the Nov. 19 transition from streetcar to bus. The historic streetcars should be back on track in 18 to 24 months. The goal is to have the streetcars back in service by the tourist season in 2007.

Updated: Oct. 6, 2005

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