'Great Wheel' owners propose downtown Seattle gondola

SEATTLE -- With four mass transit options in Seattle - and a fifth around the corner - a private developer is now floating a sixth, 'sky-high' idea to move people around the Emerald City: a gondola.

The same family behind the Seattle Great Wheel wants to build a gondola from the convention center to the waterfront; a half-mile stretch along Union Street that could transport up to 1,800 people an hour, developers said Tuesday.

"If we don't do things to keep the waterfront viable, we could lose these businesses and have less people come to the waterfront," said Kyle Griffith, one of the developers behind the proposal. "(Construction) has affected sales on the entire waterfront dramatically."

Griffith's father, Hal, who is also behind the development, said that air rights would need to be secured from the city to build the gondola about 40-50 feet above the ground. Developers want to put a stop near Union Street and Second Avenue, which would entail reducing the number of lanes for cars along the street in that area.

"We are not asking for public funds or taxpayer money. This is totally privately funded," added Griffith, who said there is no official estimate on what the project might cost, beyond "tens of millions of dollars."

Supporters of the plan tout the gondola as an alternate form of transportation in a city where east-west travel can be difficult. Tourism officials say an added bonus would be quick transport for visitors from downtown to Pike Place Market and then onto the waterfront.

"It's a transportation solution - a relatively easy transportation solution," said Tom Norwalk, president and CEO at Visit Seattle. "It would be an attraction. It would be another reason they would like to come to Seattle."

Some at the announcement were quick to sound the alarm over privacy concerns - and the impact to property values - for people who live along the proposed gondola route.

"I will be on the 6th floor (of my building), looking out and waving at tourists while I'm eating in the dining room," said Carole Williams, who lives at 98 Union Street. "We are just so close to the gondolas from our windows. I can't imagine sitting in my home and watching the tourists right outside my window. That will impact me."

Williams said her condo association has had no meetings with or outreach from the gondola developers.

"I'm on the board (at the condo). There has been no dialogue," said Dale Hosfield, who lives in the same building. "Of course it impacts property values. How could it not?"

Developers still need the viaduct to come down before construction could begin. They also need all the required approvals and permits from the city.

Hal Griffith said Tuesday that developers have met with every member of the city council, but a spokeswoman said no formal meetings had been held and no proposal submitted to city leaders.

"To the best of my knowledge there is not a proposal before council, nor DPD, nor SDOT," said Dana Robinson-Slote, communications director for the Seattle City Council. "As an applicant, they would have to receive an approval on a number of different applications."