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Project Profile: Freeway Park Improvements: Seattle, Washington

Map rendering

Project background and concepts. Park areas traced in black including the Upper Lawns, 8th Avenue Entrance, Upper Seneca, Seneca Plaza, Park Place Building, and Box Garden will be prioritized for improvements. Note that the areas bordered by blue includes Pigott Corridor, 6th/Seneca entrance and Convention Center are owned by other parties and will see limited improvements.

Source: Credit to the City of Seattle

Project Name

Freeway Park Improvements: Seattle, Washington


Seattle, Washington

Project Sponsor / Borrower

Seattle Parks & Recreation (SPR)

Program Areas

Value Capture

Value Capture Techniques

Private Contribution; Right-of-Way Use Agreements (Cap the Freeway)


Other: Freeway Park


The Freeway Park Improvements Project will repair, restore, and potentially enhance original park features in support of the park’s daily use, maintenance, and programming. The goal of the project is to make the park more welcoming, bring people back to the park, and restore its role as a centerpiece of Seattle’s park system and an icon of landscape architecture. It was the first park built over an interstate highway over four decades ago.

The Seattle’s Freeway Park, Washington was the nation’s first park built atop a highway to reconnect the neighborhoods the highway had torn asunder. In 1966, I-5 was cut through the edge of Seattle; running north-south, it divided downtown from neighborhoods to the east. When Freeway Park opened in 1976, it became a model for other cities seeking to heal the divisions that postwar highway construction had caused.

It opened between 6th and 7th Avenues over Interstate 5 in July 1976 as a celebration of the U.S. bicentennial. The 5.2-acre park, the largest public park in downtown Seattle, was built with Forward Thrust bond funds for residents, shoppers, and visitors to enjoy. The park includes distinct areas tied together by concrete, greenery, and furnishings, along with a series of irregular, linked plazas that are intertwined and enclosed by board-formed concrete planting containers and walls. It includes a 30-foot concrete canyon and Naramore Fountain, which existed before the park was built, but was incorporated into the park’s design.

Some say the brutalist architecture used in Freeway Park’s design gave an unwelcoming feel. The park’s structure also did not support some of the trees planted within its grounds. Over time, the surviving vegetation became overgrown and the park fell into disrepair.

The expansion project aims to replace 12 entrances to the main part of the park with four primary entrances located along key city walking routes that pass the park and connect to primary walking routes through the park. Plans are currently underway to repair, restore, and enhance Freeway Park’s original features in support of daily use, maintenance, and public programming.

Proposed improvements include infrastructure upgrades related to lighting, wayfinding signage, planting, accessibility, entrances, programming, and services; repairs to drainage, irrigation, and seating; new restrooms, play-safe fountains, and permanent storage; and a café, information booth, children’s play area, gateways, and infrastructure for events and daily programming.


$10 million (including $6 million of construction budget)

  • $750,000 for activation
  • $9,250,000 for capital improvements
Funding Sources
  • Freeway Park was championed by Jim Ellis and built with the Forward Thrust funds in 1976. With Forward Thrust bond money, as well as county, state and federal funding, the five-acre park became a reality in 1976.
  • $10 million from the Washington State Convention Center Expansion Project for Improvements
Project Delivery / Contract Method


Private Partner
  • Walker|Macy (Lead, Landscape Architecture)
  • HDR (Civil & Structural Engineering, Irrigation)
  • Bassetti (Architecture)
  • Studio Matthews (Wayfinding)
  • Watt (Lighting)
  • Reyes Engineering (Electrical Engineering)
  • ETM (Programming)
  • 3 Square Blocks (Public Involvement)
  • BOLA (Historic Preservation)
  • DCW (Cost Estimating)
  • BRH (Survey)
  • Freeway Park Association (FPA)
Project Advisors / Consultants
  • FPA
  • Freeway Park Advisory Committee
  • Seattle Design Commission
  • The City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Historic Preservation Program
  • Compass Housing Alliance
  • Downtown Seattle Association
  • First Hill Improvement Association
  • Horizon House
  • Lid I-5 Steering Committee
  • Town Hall
  • Visit Seattle
  • Washington Holdings
  • Washington State Convention Center
  • Washington Department of Transportation


Duration / Status

Construction began in 2019 and is scheduled to be complete in 2022.

The original goal was to complete the improvements to Freeway Park by the end of 2021. The current timeline calls for construction to start in 2022.
Financial Status / Financial Performance

The project totaled $10 million, with $6 million being designated to construction. More than $9 million was intended for capital improvements and the remainder funded the activation.

  • There was significant collaboration between agencies and private donors before the design team was even selected.
  • Use of strategies such as a botanical walk, an interpretive walk, temporary art installations, and fitness programs to activate interstitial zones between primary park spaces, to reinforce the idea of using the whole park.
  • An integrated approach to wayfinding that includes modifications to the landscape as well as new elements including lighting, signage, and maps.
  • Use of “Layers of light” to provide low levels of ambient light, mark paths, accent the park’s iconic features and lush landscape, and invite people to enjoy the park after dark.
Related Links / Articles

Sandra Albertsen
Project Manager

Three photos.

Left: Image from the Freeway Air Rights Master Plan. Center: Designer Angela Danadjieva and a model of Freeway Park expansions. Right: Sketch of Freeway Park expansions.

Source: Credit to the University of Washington, College of Built Environments Visual Resources Collection

Aerial view of freeway.

Looking north along Interstate 5 before Freeway Park was built. The Naramore Fountain and the under-construction Park Place tower are visible at center left.

Source: Credit to the Seattle Parks Foundation

Aerial view of freeway.

Freeway Park shortly after it opened on July 4, 1976.

Source: Credit to the University of Washington, College of Built Environments Visual Resources Collection

Aerial view of facility.

The original facility of the Washington State Convention Center and its associated extensions of Freeway Park, looking north.

Source: Credit to Scott Bonjukian, the Seattle Parks Foundation

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