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Bellevue Picks Design Firm for Grand Connection Project

By Kristin Bentley

After conducting a national and international search, the City of Bellevue has chosen Balmori Associates, a New York-based design firm, to be their lead consultant for the Grand Connection Visioning project.

Balmori Associates is an internationally recognized design firm whose work has included the Beale Street Landing in Memphis, the Abandoibarra District master plan in Bilbao, Spain, and the New Government City master plan in Sejong, South Korea. The design firm will provide landscape and urban design, public realm and sustainability services for the design process that will enhance walkability in Bellevue while establishing the design foundation for a new signature and landmark piece of infrastructure.

The Grand Connection will be a pedestrian-oriented non-motorized corridor

“We are extremely pleased to lead Bellevue’s Grand Connection Visioning project,” said Diana Balmori, the founding principal at Balmori. “The city’s intentions dovetail with what we believe is essential for 21st century cities, connectivity. Landscape is also becoming a principal actor of the urban stage in creating livable cities.”

The Grand Connection will be a pedestrian-oriented non-motorized corridor that begins at Meydenbauer Bay Park at Lake Washington, connects through the downtown core, and ultimately terminates at the regional multi-use Eastside Rail Corridor. It will connect important places within the city, including the Lake Washington waterfront, Old Bellevue, the Downtown Park, the grand shopping street of Bellevue Way, the Transit Center, Meydenbauer Convention Center and the Eastside Rail Corridor.

The Wilburton Commercial area rests just east of Downtown across I-405 and presents an opportunity to establish a strong neighborhood anchor for the east end of the Grand Connection. The Grand Connection is intended to influence the land use patterns of the Wilburton study area while capitalizing on other transportation and infrastructure improvements, including light rail investment.

“The Grand Connection is an inspiring and transformative concept that highlights Bellevue’s emerging role as a major urban center,” said Mayor John Stokes. “Balmori’s history of exceptional design and experiential public spaces will make this an exciting, collaborative process.”

According to the Bellevue Architectural/Urban Design Services’ Support of the Grand Connection Study, the intention is to achieve the kind of identity for the city that is seen in features such as the High Line for New York City, the River Walk for San Antonio, and the 11th Street Bridge Park for Washington, D.C. The study states, “it is envisioned as a unique and defining urban design experience that creates memorability and an opportunity for national recognition as a ‘must-visit’ urban experience.”

The sequencing of the work was broken into four phases. The first three phases were scheduled to be completed by mid-2016 and the fourth is to be completed by the end of the year. The first phase involved establishing an overall theme and a design identity, using stakeholder and community feedback. The second phase consisted of establishing a framework, vision and ideas for the segment that spans I-405 and connects Downtown to the Eastside Rail Corridor.

The project is currently finishing the third phase. In partnership with the Bellevue Arts Museum, the City will host a design charrette with local professionals to cultivate unique ideas and visions for identified segments of the Grand Connection. City staff and the consultant will consider and identify some of the finer grained ideas generated from the charrette and opportunities to be incorporated into the larger vision of the corridor. This final open house will be held to present the chosen idea on April 9, from 4-7pm at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

The fourth and final phase will involve further refining the chosen idea revealed next month to incorporate a separate land use and urban design study for the Wilburton Commercial Area, which will acknowledge land use changes for the study area and will better integrate urban amenity improvements and design guidelines.

“High visibility, multiple alliances and public support will be critical in assuring the emergence of a new urban form. We are looking forward to engaging city leaders, citizens and stakeholders through the design process,” said Balmori.

Joining Balmori Associates will be public engagement strategists and environmental engineers Herrera from Seattle, the civil engineering firm Knippers Helbig from New York, and transportation specialists Mobility in Chain from New York and Milan.