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Port of Seattle’s In-Progress Cruise Ship Terminal Highlights Continued Revitalization of Puget Sound Region’s Waterfronts

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Image courtesy of Port of Seattle

By Jack Stubbs

The greater Puget Sound region — and the Emerald City, Seattle, within it —has a long-standing maritime history. The Central Waterfront of Seattle, which includes Elliott Bay and runs adjacent to the city’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, was once the focal point of Seattle’s maritime activity. Since the construction of a container port in the 1960s, the area has seen an increasing amount of commercial, retail and recreational uses centered there.

Fast-forward to present day, during a period of immense growth for the city of Seattle and surrounding areas, several docks remain there under the authority of the Port of Seattle, including various ferry terminals and a cruise ship dock.

Seattle’s waterfront — which runs roughly from Jackson Street in Pioneer Square to the north end of the Central Business District in Belltown — has seen increasing interest from public and private entities alike over the last several months. Several recent and in-the-works undertakings include the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct in early January 2019 and Waterfront Seattle’s $711 million ongoing, multi-phase redevelopment of the waterfront, which will ultimately comprise twenty acre of public spaces and an elevated pathway connecting Pike Place Market to the downtown waterfront.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced plans create legislation to round out the funding needed to execute the project, which represented a landmark moment both for the waterfront itself and the city of which it is a part. “As we build a city of the future, we are reconnecting Seattle with our heartbeat — the Puget Sound — and creating a new Waterfront for All for the next generation,” said Mayor Durkan in a press release. “This legislation will help ensure the next generation of Seattleites have the chance to make new memories on our waterfront and have access to great new public spaces.”

Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle has plans to develop a a new cruise facility at the north berth of Terminal 46, a project in which the Port plans to invest $100 million, alongside a development partner that the Port hopes will provide 50 percent of the project’s funding, according to the Port of Seattle’s web site. The early cost estimate for the project located at 401 Alaskan Way— which encompasses a 29-acre area — is approximately $200 million.

The Terminal 46 project, which has a targeted completion date of the 2022 Cruise Season, reflects a realignment of international maritime cargo operations with the Terminal 5 Modernization Program. More broadly, however, the undertaking demonstrates a long-standing, wide-spread interest from the city of Seattle itself, according to Stephanie Jones Stebbins, Managing Director of the Port’s Maritime Division. “It’s really been a convergence of events. On the one hand, we know there’s been a very strong interest both from investors and the city of Seattle. At the same time, some changes were happening with the cargo businesses that made this facility available.”

As with many developments along the waterfront and elsewhere in Seattle, the Terminal 46 revitalization reflects an ongoing public-private partnership: the Port of Seattle is in the process of determining its development partner in an effort that began several months ago. The Port released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in mid-March 2019, for which responses were submitted in mid-April. In early May, The Port announced the three shortlisted project teams chosen as their potential development partners: These include Cruise Industry Leaders Group (a partnership between Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd., MSSC Cruises S.A, Carnival Corporation and SSA Marine Inc., a subsidiary of Carrix Inc.), Global Ports Holding Plc and Civil&Building North America Inc., and Ports America partnering with Jacobs Engineering Group. 

The three teams will now be invited to respond to a Request for Proposals (RFP), which is expected to be released in June, according to The Port of Seattle’s web site. 

Programmatically, the Port aims to create a project that will — through a number of infrastructural improvements to the existing maritime uses along the waterfront and the addition of various terminal-buildings and in-water elements — increase connectivity and public access to Seattle’s redeveloped waterfront. The Port’s development has four core principles, which include boosting state-wide tourism, protecting the environment, supporting the city and region’s local economy, and supporting its business practices. 

“[As far as] our principles, we know that there are other ways of getting to the terminal besides passenger vehicles; we really want to make sure we’re taking advantage of other ways that will have less traffic impacts. The planning effort is going to be a really important part of the overall terminal planning,” Stebbins said. “We [also] have the opportunity to bring lots of provisioning off the city streets and onto the terminal; so that will hopefully function very well.”

More broadly, the in-the-works projects reflect an effort to maintain the historical functions of the site while also creating a forward-looking, financially-sustainable development that will add to the urban fabric of Seattle as an evolving city, according to Stebbins. “The principles that our commission adopted are really the distillation of how we were thinking about developing the cruise ship terminal. [Ensuring] that we keep the water facilities and maritime industrial uses is key. This terminal was developed decades ago and the cargo ships themselves [have changed] but it’s the same things happening [here],” she said. “We want to ensure that the businesses are benefiting from the passengers and the money that they spend; we want people to be able to go to the shops around Pioneer Square and the rest of the city.”

Looking ahead, it’s likely that the project will provide substantial support to the local economy of Seattle and the wider Puget Sound region. In 2019, Seattle expects to serve 213 cruise ship calls and 1.2 million passengers, according to the Port’s web site, and each vessel call supports an estimated $4.2 million in economic activity for the region. Overall, the cruise industry draws thousands of visitors to Washington state, providing almost $900 million in state-wide business revenue.

As with many developments in progress across the region, the Terminal 46 project required longer-term planning efforts to ensure that it would pencil out financially. In November 2018, The Port of Seattle Commission approved its 2019 budget and Five-Year Capital Investment Plan (from 2019 through 2023), which outlines the Port’s blueprint for ultimately investing $348 million towards Seattle’s evolving waterfront. “This is definitely a cornerstone of the five-year plan… we also know that the returns from this business support the other maritime projects that we do,” Stebbins added. 

In terms of the way that the new cruise ship terminal maps onto changes occurring throughout the rest of the region, it is in large part driven by things happening in its immediate vicinity, according to Stebbins. “I think the Viaduct coming down is really key; we’re really seeing a transformation of the waterfront, and think we’ll continue to see an interest in that as the city gets more connected to the waterfront,” she said. 

Along with the Port of Seattle’s efforts, other developers, also, are looking to capitalize on the potential for the adaptive reuse of historic properties along Seattle’s waterfront. Meriwether Partners is looking to transform the Old Spaghetti Factory (originally built in 1902 and located at 2815 Elliott Ave.) into a $60 million mixed-use development that will ultimately comprise 32,200 square feet of commercial office space and 60 parking stalls. 

The waterfront in Seattle — often regarded as a hub for growing technology companies — is also attracting interest from the tech sector as well. In mid-2018, Big Fish Games finalized its decision to relocate to the eight-story, 190,000 square foot Maritime Building located at 906 Alaskan Way, which was originally developed in 1910 and recently underwent extensive renovations. 

Beyond Seattle, a growing recognition of the Puget Sound region’s waterfront is a trend being seen further afield as well, with areas like the Snohomish County city of Everett demonstrating increased interest. In mid-October 2018, local multi-family builder SeaLevel Properties revealed strong demand for its new 266-unit Everett Waterfront Apartments, which is part of the the Port of Everett’s 65-acre Waterfront Place Central development. 

Elsewhere, The Port of Everett is working in partnership with a number of architecture and design firms on the Grand Avenue Park Bridge Project along the waterfront in Everett. Set for completion sometime in late 2019 and a result of a combined $635 million in public-private financing from the Port and a development partner, the project will also look to further connect the city with its waterfront by way of a 275-foot pedestrian bridge. 

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Rendering courtesy of LMN Architects

In the wider regional context, projects like the Terminal 46 redevelopment in Seattle and the Grand Avenue Park Bridge in Everett are set to play a positive role in the Pacific Northwest as a growing region. “We are seeing a new vanguard of civic leadership in Seattle and throughout North America that is more aware. I think we’re seeing more commitment to design being really intertwined in public leadership,” said partner at LMN Architects Stephen Van Dyck, who spearheaded the Everett project. 

“When they’re done well, these projects can provide a much broader benefit to the community, which is where leadership across these cities like Everett and Seattle are looking right now…I think we are a bit of a laboratory here in the Pacific Northwest; it’s a real sea-change of how the region has latched onto high design being a critical part of the cities and their future needs,” he added.