By Jack Stubbs
The University of Washington’s West Campus, the urban core of the institution, is set to experience widespread changes as the 2018 Campus Master Plan (CMP) gathers momentum over the coming months.
The changes occurring on West Campus are part of a larger 700-acre renovation initiative that will affect 86 potential development sites throughout the University campus, with up to 6 million net new gross square feet of development in the works across the four campus areas (central, west, south and east). The overarching plans for each campus area address issues like the public realm and connectivity, the existing built environment and development capacity.
Of the four campus areas, West Campus has the most development capacity, with up to 3 million net new gross square feet of development planned, a figure that accounts for roughly half of the total development planned at the University.
According to the CMP, the West Campus is the most urban of the four campuses and accommodates a wide range of uses including student housing, academic, research, and cultural programs. As part of the CMP’s 10-year Conceptual Plan, the long-term vision for West Campus is to structure the proposed developments around open spaces—two in particular, the two-acre Portage Bay Park, which the city is developing and the four-acre West Campus Green, which the University is developing. The two open spaces would provide seven acres of open space bordered by new development and small pavilion spaces with amenities for park visitors, according to the CMP.
This emphasis on adding open spaces within the University is one of the main elements of the plans for West Campus and will also serve to connect the University with the surrounding community, according to Theresa Doherty, senior project director of the 2018 CMP. “The biggest gesture in West Campus will be the new open space and opening that up to the University and everyone that lives and works in the U-District,” she said. “The two open spaces are separate, but when you are down there they will feel like one contiguous open space.”
According to Doherty, the provision of new open spaces in West Campus is part of a larger city-wide strategy. “There are two separate questions about how [the CMP] addresses a need for more open space. The first is whether the city of Seattle has a need for more open space,” she said. “I believe [the city] has done some studies in the U-District, and there’s a deficit…I’m sure that the Portage Bay Park will help alleviate a portion of that,” she said. And while, generally, the University has significant amounts of open space—especially throughout the 215-acre Central Campus—open spaces in West Campus will help to further activate this portion of the institution, according to Doherty. “In designing the West Campus, we wanted to make sure that it too had a lot of open space that would draw people to that area down by the water, even though West Campus is much more of an urban form.”
Other goals of the West Campus redevelopment are to improve the connections between the University and the adjacent U-District, further connect the campus and the U-District to the waterfront, and improve the connection between West Campus, Central Campus and South Campus. Specifically, the University hopes to enhance pedestrian circulation and engagement along Brooklyn Avenue and better activate 15th Avenue NE with lighting and landscaping elements.
Throughout West Campus, there are 17 potential development sites across four distinct development zones. However, not all of the sites will ultimately be developed: the planning team identified twice as many potential development sites and twice as much square footage in the CMP to enable flexibility for the institution’s departments moving forward. “We identified almost twice as many sites as we think we’re going to need because we want that flexibility to meet the needs of the departments as they go forward and grow,” Doherty said.
Development zone H aims to enhance the pedestrian experience and street character along Campus Parkway—a prominent thoroughfare in the institution—and also activate the ground-floor uses along Campus Parkway and University Way. Development zone I, which has seven potential development sites, aims to create accessible green open spaces that connect the Burke-Gilman Trail with Brooklyn Ave and encourage pedestrian use along 11th and 12th Ave. Development zone J—which contains the planned West Campus Green and the Portage Bay Park—aims to encourage new development that connects with the nearby waterfront and trails and create buildings that conform with the open spaces. Lastly, development zone K aims to enhance and retain the wooded character of the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Some of the largest potential development sites throughout West Campus include Stevens Court West, a 14-story roughly 287,000 square foot mixed-use building; and the Ethnic Culture Center, a 17-story 357,000 square foot structure that would require the demolition of a 32,000 square foot parking garage. Other potential developments include Condon Hall Site, a 17-story roughly 257,500 square foot building, and the Portage Bay Parking Garage, a 14-story 230,000 square foot structure.
Ultimately, all of the potential developments have to be related to the University’s academic mission. Along these lines, one of the central elements of the plans for West Campus is the creation of an innovation district, according to Doherty. “We talk about the innovation district in the CMP in terms of the different innovation pieces that have come from the University from research, our students, faculty and staff,” she said. “So we see the West Campus innovation district as a continuation of what we’re already doing [at the University].” While academic buildings on campus often have one primary use, the innovation district will be an area on campus where buildings have multiple uses.
In the broader context, the goal of the innovation district is to further ingratiate the University with the surrounding community. “The innovation district is somewhere where faculty, staff and students [will] work together on research and teaching with other public or private partners to work to solve some of the issues we’re confronting right now as an academic and research institution,” Doherty said. West Campus was chosen as the location for the innovation district because it has the most development capacity of the four campus areas and is also easily accessible from the academically-oriented Central Campus.
Over the coming weeks, the University’s CMP will continue to take shape. On January 16th, the CMP went before Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner, who issued 59 conditions and recommendations about the CMP relating to transportation, urban design and historic preservation issues. However, various community leaders are petitioning City Council to consider and investigate other elements of the CMP that might not have been discussed at the original hearing.
Doherty thinks that further progress and decisions about the plan will be made over the next two weeks and that the CMP is still progressing on schedule. “We’re hoping that by the end of February, we’ll have another hearing and then there will be City Council meetings in March and April. So we’re still on track to have the final approval [for the plan] by summer of 2018,” she said.