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Seattle Great Wheel developers propose downtown gondola line

It sounds a little pie in the sky, but the folks behind Seattle’s Great Wheel have unveiled an even grander project: a gondola between downtown Seattle and the waterfront.

The Griffith family announced the official launch of the Union Street Gondola Tuesday, which would run between the Washington State Convention Center and the waterfront down Union Street.

It’s something the Griffith’s have talked about for several years. But developer Kyle Griffith says they’re finally ready to begin making the dream a reality.

“We’ve partnered with the best local architects and engineers and traffic consultants and people who’ve worked with the city on a regular basis,” Griffith says.

Griffith unveiled initial design concepts and introduced key partners at a launch event, including what he says is the most recognized engineering firm in the world.

The gondola line would carry up to 1,800 people an hour in the eight-passenger cars, which would depart every 16 seconds. The trip would take five-minutes to complete, Griffith says.

“We’ve been meeting with property owners all along Union Street,” he says. “We’ve been able to use the feedback a lot to change the way it operates and looks.”

Initial concepts call for gondolas similar to those currently in use on the Great Wheel traveling by cable above the middle of the street, suspended by 8 crescent shaped poles that look like a whale’s bone. In addition to stations on each end, initial plans call for a stop at Pike Place Market.

Griffith says gondolas have been more than proven in cities and at ski areas around the world. And Seattle is the perfect place for a gondola system to ferry both tourists and commuters between two key parts of the city.

“You know, in the history of Seattle we’ve never had a good east-west connection. Everything goes north-south and we have the steep terrain and the bad weather and it makes it tough to connect,” Griffith says. “They move millions of people everyday and they work in really difficult conditions and terrain and because of that they’ve really developed.”

The proposal is likely to draw plenty of skeptic and critics. But Griffith says the project has the backing of a number of key supporters including the convention center, Visit Seattle, Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton and the Seattle Historic Waterfront Association. And he says best of all, the family plans to pay for all the costs of developing and operating the project, with no tax dollars involved.

“Once people start to understand it they see there really is no negative to this, it’s good for everyone.”

Griffith says the initial timetable calls for developers to make initial applications with the city as soon as possible, and conduct a series of public meetings to take feedback on the project. The goal is to have the gondola line operational when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished after the SR 99 tunnel beneath Seattle opens. Demolition is scheduled to begin in 2016, but the schedule is up in the air because of the problems with Bertha the tunneling machine.

“We hope to open it right when the Viaduct comes down,” he says. “It’s right at the time the waterfront community needs it the most because you can imagine it’s going to be like a war-zone down there with all the construction.”

The project is especially suited to serving families with young children, the elderly, and the disabled – those physically unable to climb the bluff or otherwise walk long distances, Griffith says.

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