In the summer of 2019, the Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA) and the city collaborated on a pilot placemaking program that affected the pedestrian corridor from Bellevue Way Northeast to 110th Avenue Northeast.
At its Dec. 9 study session, the city council received a report detailing what went into the pilot and what its outcomes were.
The pilot falls under the Grand Connection Framework Plan, which was passed by the council on Dec. 11, 2017. The Grand Connection constitutes the route between Meydenbauer Bay Park (100th Avenue Northeast and Main Street) and the Civic Center District.
According to the city of Bellevue’s website, the connection is intended to eventually become a signature feature of the urban landscape.
The purpose of the plan is to foster connectivity and mobility, route identity, a streamlined design and other improvements, according to the Grand Connection website.
“The Grand Connection and the steps we take together to realize the bold vision can act as a catalyst for our economy and community that translates beyond just a healthy tax base,” said BDA president Patrick Bannon. “That’s great, but it also gets to the nature of city-building and why people get together in the first place.”
In January 2019, city staff encouraged the BDA, per the plan’s recommended next step of bringing to the fore “tactical urbanism” and pilot projects, to devise a pilot placemaking project on the Grand Connection’s route.
Placemaking is a city-planning approach that works to promote the well-being and health of its residents. Examples include street art, greenery and other additions to a given site’s look.
For the pilot, the corridor from Bellevue Way Northeast to 110th Avenue Northeast was affected. That limited scope was done not only because a project impacting the entire Grand Connection would be too large for a pilot but also to introduce the public to placemaking ventures, and make them excited about projects to come.
Several key property owners on that part of the route — including Central Bar & Grill and the Kilroy Corporation — participated. After receiving input and considering the area’s environment, the BDA and the city narrowed down the pilot to include 790 lanterns installed across several locations, as well as new seating areas.
Lanterns were chosen in part due to their cost-effectiveness and weather-resistance. Their use was inspired by a project in Portugal where city streets, during the Agitagueda Art Festival, were lined with colorful umbrellas.
The lights and seating remained in place from early July until September. On a bi-weekly basis, repairs to the lanterns, which were often vulnerable to vandalism based on how high they were strung, were made.
To gauge whether those who interacted with that part of the Grand Connection during the pilot period noticed a difference, an online survey was put out.
There were 156 responses, with 58 percent of participants working in downtown Bellevue and 53 percent permanent residents. Eighty-four (84) percent of respondents said they liked the lanterns; 90 percent said they would like to see other creative projects like the lantern pilot in the future.
Fifty-two (52) percent of respondents said they used the additional, bistro-style seating. Among those who said they did not use it clarified that it wasn’t available at the time they would have, denoting a desire for more accommodation. (Ultimately, 69 percent of survey-takers said they would like to see more seating.)
Augusta DeVries, the managing director of programs and member engagement, said responses showed that the relationship residents have to their “place” is important. She said she heard many stories from people saying that the implementation of the lanterns cheered the space up.
“This work is complex and time-intensive, but we feel it’s critical to attract and retain strong activity in our urban core,” DeVries said. “We’re committed to building on the success of this pilot.”
Public-private partnership manager Kris Goddard emphasized that the hard work put into the pilot should not be undermined as a result of its classification.
“I think we often do a disservice to this kind of work by calling it ‘pilot projects’ or calling it ‘tactical urbanism’ because I think that evokes the sense that it’s light and easy and quick,” Goddard said.
Councilmembers praised the efforts.
“I love this, and I heard individually from so many people that noticed it and were asking questions… It’s a great project,” Councilmember Jared Nieuwenhuis said.
He suggested that in the future, placemaking efforts potentially include connections to local artists and arts-focused events like the city’s Bellwether Arts Festival.
“I’m looking forward to what’s next, and how we can expand it,” said Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson.
The next placemaking proposal will come to the council in the summer.
For the full conversation around the pilot project, watch the Dec. 9 meeting recording online (https://bit.ly/300M9ye). For more background on the project, go to the meeting agenda item (https://bit.ly/2QQSec7).