(Left) Larry Phillips and Sally Bagshaw
(Left) Larry Phillips and Sally Bagshaw
When Brett Phillips was 5 years old, he looked at the land southwest of Magnolia Bridge and asked why it was a dumping ground for fishing nets and blackberry vines. He asked his dad, Larry Phillips, why they couldn’t make a play area there instead.

It took two more decades, inspired vision from determined Magnolia and Queen Anne residents and coordination from city, county and Port of Seattle leaders to answer Brett’s question.

We now have the chance to realize his vision; this time, others share his dream.

Bruce Carter, Tom Tanner, Susan Casey and many more neighbors from Queen Anne and Magnolia also want to create an expanded Smith Cove Park. With voters’ help this Aug. 5 to pass the Parks’ Proposition 1, the vision to see Smith Cove morph into a magnificent waterfront park can be achieved.

Short history

Smith Cove 1.0 — The history of the Smith Cove area dates back to 1852, when Dr. Henry A. Smith staked the first Magnolia claim.

2.0 — Famously, Smith Cove was the site of the maritime strike of 1934. Longshoremen today still memorialize the death of two of their compatriots killed in that strike.

3.0 — During World War II, the Navy acquired shoreline property on the cove for a strategic supply depot, using it through the Korean and Vietnam wars.

4.0 — In 1970, the land was acquired by the port, where it served as a critical shipping point for Asian trade and seafood.

5.0 — Flash-forward about a decade: With thanks to visionary Magnolia and Queen Anne community members, Seattle Parks and Recreation, in cooperation with King County, purchased several acres of Smith Cove from the Navy. It stood idle for years; yet, this acquisition of the field at the base of Magnolia Bridge was really the beginning of the dream, a dream of a major, connected park along the Magnolia south waterfront.

6.0 — Seattle Parks improved the drainage, shooed away the Canada geese and created an area for mod-soccer. As every soccer parent knows, ballfields are a hot commodity in this area.

7.0 — Last year, the parcel just east and across the road from the mod-soccer fields became an important piece of a complicated puzzle.

With the assistance of then-Port Commissioner Gael Tarleton and other regional leaders, we negotiated with the port to acquire the “West Yard” parcel, the one surrounded by the rusty cyclone fence and blackberry bushes.

We saw the opportunities for both King County ratepayers and Seattle Parks users. King County needed property near the water to build the federally mandated, underground sewage-holding tank. This tank will protect the quality of Puget Sound by storing run-off during serious storm events.

At the same time, Seattle Parks representatives had been meeting with neighbors to consider a major park at this location. The parks department did not have the money to develop it, but with King County’s help, Parks bought it and “land-banked” the site. That meant King County could proceed with its combined sewer overflow (CSO) project and planning for Smith Cove Park could continue.

Thanks to the Friends of Smith Cove Park, we now have a preliminary rendering of what Smith Cove Park could be. The image was completed pro bono by Charles Anderson Architects of Olympic Sculpture Park fame.

Rest assured, it is but a starting point, yet a good place to begin conversations. 

A call to action

If you’ve driven toward Elliott Bay Marina lately, you know that Smith Cove is now under construction. King County‘s Department of Natural Resources is clearing the land for a 1.5-million-gallon underground storage tank.

The county’s CSO project is well under way and is on track to be completed in mid-2015.

We see this site as our next great public park: a place bordered on two sides by water, where neighbors can meet and pedestrians can walk safely, where we can watch both summer sunrises and winter sunsets, where we can launch our kayaks and our kids can romp in an urban forest. The community conversations are just beginning.

Our effort to jointly develop Smith Cove illustrates how governments can and should leverage our resources. By working together, King County and the City of Seattle have a historic opportunity to address both water-quality issues and develop a neighborhood waterfront park. We mustn’t let this opportunity pass us by.

What’s required to make the park happen? Your “yes” vote on Proposition 1. 

What’s next?

The development of Smith Cove Park is included as a dedicated-fund line item in Proposition 1. Funds are included for improved sports-field drainage on the mod-soccer fields, irrigation, shoreline work, infrastructure and basic park development, such as a kayak launch and restrooms.

Our personal commitment is to ensure that the CSO development aligns with citizen-directed park plans.

If voters pass Proposition 1, we will ensure that the dedicated funding is available for the development of Smith Cove Park. Without passage of this ballot measure, Seattle Parks and Recreation has no means to make this happen in the foreseeable future.

This is the best opportunity we have had in two decades to make our neighborhood dream come true.

Your ballots will be delivered to your house soon and must be postmarked by Aug. 5. Please join us in voting yes for sustainable funding for parks. Vote yes for Proposition 1. Vote yes for Smith Cove! 

LARRY PHILLIPS is a Metropolitan King County Council member. SALLY BAGSHAW is a Seattle City Council member.

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