Seattle opens new waterfront park on Portage Bay in ‘spectacular spot’ where police station once stood

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There’s a new waterfront park with a rocky beach in Seattle, squeezed below the University of Washington, along Portage Bay. The 3.5-acre space opened discreetly Wednesday without an on-site celebration.

Visitors can walk the beach, check out a pier that juts into the water, launch kayaks and canoes, or rest on yellow chairs arranged across the grassy, terraced park. There are smooth boulders for kids to climb on, too.

The view to the west includes the University Bridge and Interstate 5’s Ship Canal Bridge, which span the skyline. Straight ahead, across the slate-colored bay, clusters of houseboats are moored.

The low-slung vantage on Northeast Boat Street is unique among the city’s public spaces, placid compared to the hustle and bustle on the bridges in the distance. “It’s a pretty spectacular spot,” said David Graves, a Seattle Parks and Recreation planner who worked on the project.

Most of the city’s waterfront parks face east or west, receiving sun (on sunny days) in the morning or afternoon, Graves noted. The new space, named Fritz Hedges Waterway Park after a longtime Parks Department employee, faces south and should receive sun all day long, he said.

Several people with jobs in the neighborhood stopped by the park around lunchtime Thursday, as did some mallard ducks. UW Medical Center is located nearby, as are UW buildings devoted to marine and genetic research.

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Research associate Michael Tieu, 29, strolled through the park with graduate student Eliza Barkan, 27. They gave the space positive reviews, aside from some goose poop that’s begun to accumulate.

“I’ve been driving by, waiting for it to open,” Tieu said. “It’s a great spot. Her mom has a kayak we could bring.”

There also are kayaks for rent at Agua Verde Cafe, just down Boat Street. Retirees Diana Kruis, 65, and Charlie Barbour, 73, brought lunch from the cafe to the park.

“It sure turned out nice,” Kruis said about the project, which took two years to create. “This is an expensive piece of real estate. I’m glad it became a park.”

Larry Gallagher, a 52-year-old biologist taking a break in the park, was pleasantly surprised when a preschool class showed up at the same time. He waved to his young son, who raced over.

“The kids just want to throw rocks and run around,” preschool teacher Martha Breslauer said, laughing. “We’ll be here every day.”

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The space was at one point the starting point for a trail between Portage Bay and Lake Washington, Graves said. The site later became a lumber mill, then Bryant’s Marina — the first Chris-Craft Boats dealership on the West Coast, Graves added. The university bought the property in the 1970s, using a large building on the site most recently as a campus police station and recycling center.

The Washington State Department of Transportation gave the city about $14 million to buy the space. The state was required to provide Seattle with a new waterfront park in exchange for public space on Lake Washington taken over recently to widen Highway 520, Graves said.

The state also gave the city $9 million to build out Fritz Hedges Waterway Park, and the university paid more than $2.4 million to conduct environmental remediation at the site.

The building that housed the UW police station and recycling center was demolished, and the project involved shoreline-restoration work meant to support juvenile salmon. Timbers salvaged from the building were used to construct a special wooden slide for kayaks and canoes; paddlers can use the slide to bring their boats down to the water, rather than carry them down steps.

Hedges “dedicated his life to the idea that parks and recreation are vital” for all city residents, the Parks Department said in a news release. Described as an irreverent trickster by former City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, he embedded jokes in his departmental reports and lived for many years in a houseboat on Portage Bay.

“To understand why Frederick ‘Fritz’ Hedges took his job at Seattle Parks and Recreation so seriously, one need only grasp two things,” his 2004 obituary in The Seattle Times began. “Mr. Hedges was one of the park system’s best customers; and he loved the socializing that recreation enabled.”

Fritz Hedges Waterway Park is the only new park that Seattle has opened this year; there will be a celebration next spring “in conjunction with boating season,” the Parks Department said.

Two new parks opened last year, both much smaller than Fritz Hedges Waterway Park: Alice Ball Park in Greenwood and Urban Triangle Park in South Lake Union. Planning is underway for new parks in Little Saigon and Rainier Valley.

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