Seattle Waterfront History Interviews: Sally Bagshaw, Allied Arts – HistoryLink.org


Sally Bagshaw served on the Seattle City Council during a period when debate was raging about how to replace the damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct. As Bagshaw relates in these conversations with Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black of HistoryLink, she was deeply involved with Allied Arts, one of the first community based organizations to come up with creative solutions for redeveloping the Seattle waterfront. In Part 1 of the interview, she outlines early ideas for the new waterfront; her decision to run for city council; and tribal history and the importance of community consultation. This interview was recorded on July 21, 2022, in Seattle. 
Allied Arts 
Sally Bagshaw: The vision that the architects and the designers had, and those on the Allied Arts committee, was just so inspiring to me. Because at the time, it was gray, there were railroad lines going through it. Years ago, there were, I think, a dozen railroad tracks going through that, that changed when the viaduct was built. But you will recall in 2001, when we had the earthquake, the viaduct almost came down then. If the earthquake had continued for, I think people say, 14 more seconds, it would’ve collapsed like Oakland’s did. But the vision that people showed on what the waterfront could look like, the idea of having more green over gray, having a public park down there that welcomed everybody, was very exciting to me. And it was one of the first times that I recognized that there were some opportunities here in Seattle we needed to capitalize on right away.
DB: How did it come to be that Allied Arts itself was … 
SB: Was the leader in that?
DB: … activated, if you put it that way?
SB: Well, I think Allied Arts had been very active around the Pike Place Market in saving that several decades ago. And then it went moribund, that nobody heard about or from Allied Arts for a long time. David Yeaworth and Todd Vogel and a few others, they likewise were pretty excited about what we could do on the waterfront and they reactivated the board, asked me to become a board member, and it was the first of its kind for me. I’m a lawyer by background, very involved in public education, public health, but not Allied Arts and certainly not design at that point. I mean, they caught a fever of what this could be. And I want to give those guys all the credit in the world because it was their work, their fanning the flames, keeping these things going, building the first design charrette, that made this happen.
Design Ideas 2004 
SB: We did the design charrette in early 2004 and there were a couple hundred people that came, volunteered their weekend to designing this. And it was the first time for me that I was sitting with a group of architects and designers that could, in minutes, produce things that looked like this. And I know on the recording it doesn’t help, but it is beautiful illustrations with people – and of course, it’s always sunny in Seattle in these illustrations – but what they were able to accomplish for me is to show what this could look like and how we could reknit our city together. And so some of the groups started down by King Street Station and at that point, King Street Station had not been renovated like it is now, with the idea that they could connect the football and the baseball stadiums through Railroad Way to the waterfront, then redesigning what down on the south end of the waterfront could be.
And as you just looked at people’s ideas, the architects attached themselves to particular sections, geographic sections. Then others were really inspired about the environment. What could trees do down here? How can Puget Sound be cleaned up? How could we protect, preserve salmon? All of these elements came together with people looking at this saying, “Man, we could really make a difference here in our city.” And then people started talking about, “Well, what if we did something like the Highline?” and that just captured people’s imaginations.
And so this book that I’m holding here is called Waterfront for All. It was the Allied Arts Waterfront Master Vision Collaborative and we got Visit Seattle to pay for this. I mean, Allied Arts didn’t have any money and all these designs were done by volunteers and then Visit Seattle saw, ‘Yeah, this could really demonstrate to others what we could do that would make our downtown more vibrant and exciting.’ And then all of these good things are happening with Downtown Seattle Association. Kate Joncas at the time was the head of that and she saw this right away as being such a value for DSA, and then the ball just kept rolling.
City Council 2009 
DB: So when you first ran, would’ve been …
SB: 2009 for Seattle City Council.
DB: And if you have an image in your head and part of it is colored with the waterfront, what percentage was about the waterfront, what percentage was just about other things in the city for you?
SB: Yeah. Well, it was a combination at that point. I’d been very involved in addressing issues around homelessness and public health, as well as public education. And the waterfront was a … I think that I’ll give David Yeaworth credit for this. He said, “This is the sizzle on the steak. We’re doing everything else to make Seattle a wonderful place to live. This would be a place that will draw people all the time, no matter whatever season it is.”
DB: So if that’s the sizzle on the steak, what’s the steak?
SB: Well, the steak was the body that we were working on. It was the infrastructure; it was the idea that people living in Seattle needed to be able to walk to the waterfront; to retain the views from the sea part of things; make sure that we were able to protect the little salmonids that were getting chomped and eaten on their way up, clean up that water; we were working with the aquarium, and God bless the aquarium with their focus on really bringing people down to the aquarium to seeing the value of Puget Sound, so it all just interfaced. And then I got to know Bob Donegan who’s the CEO of Ivar’s and the importance of the economy to the waterfront businesses, and it just all meshed. That was the body that I’m talking about, with the infrastructure and having Seattle a place where everybody wants to be.
Seawall and Tribal History
SB: We knew that the seawall was going to have to be replaced after the earthquake. And then we brought in experts, the engineers and others saying, “This has to be replaced. It can’t just be retrofitted.” And then that was a giant opportunity to build a wall that the designers were able to utilize, with the glass bricks as you’ve walked down there, that whole reason for those glass bricks is the light underneath that makes it attractive for the little salmonids as they’re moving back and forth from the Duwamish out to the ocean. And the notion of having the extended flying buttresses over that so that … I mean, if you go under there now, I don’t know if you had a chance, but to go under in a kayak or a small boat to see at high tide how light it truly is under there, it’s extraordinary.
And then we were able to – or I shouldn’t say we, but the private sector – was able to restore their businesses down there by changing out the old oily pilings and making them something that was environmentally effective and would last longer: they’re concrete and steel, and they’ve been designed with materials that aren’t going to pollute. And then people got started and very excited about, “If we’re going to do this, why don’t we expand the beach? Why don’t we make a little beach down at the south where people can walk out and actually touch the water? And then over here on Pier 62, 63, with the idea of putting in a floating dock that the public can have access to and the tribes will be able to utilize for their festivals, bringing their canoes in.” And the idea of working with everybody was very appealing to me. Many different tribes stepped up and talked to us about what their history was and we were able to use some of, well, what HistoryLink is doing to acknowledge and recognize what the tribes wanted, the respect that was due them, and just for people being able to say this was land that was their land before white people came, and started doing what we’ve done to it.
Community, Consultations, Setbacks  
DB: Once you’re elected to the city council … I’m completely naive about this, this just a naive question: So, you’re sitting there on day one. Are you creating a vision for your time?
SB: Yeah, absolutely.
DB: And what did that look like?
SB: Well, I was asked to chair parks and that was my choice and partly, it was because of what was going on on the waterfront, and so my first major committee was parks and Seattle Center. Well, that’s heaven on earth for me because I had been working on … That leads all the way into the arena and the Kraken now, but at the time it was really a vision of how … I mean, I believe that parks are so incredibly important for all ages and abilities and a city that is welcoming to all ages, abilities, and communities. So that was a major factor for me of connecting the neighborhoods, bringing people in to say, “Well, you live in Queen Anne. How does Queen Anne want to interface with these waterfront plans?” You live downtown. There are lots of families that are very low income, so we wanted things to be available and free.
There aren’t many parks and play areas for kids. We wanted to make that a part of it. So it was, if you think of a circle about people of all ages, people of abilities, all neighbors, what do they want? And we went out to communities and we talked with the Ethiopian community, with the Asian, with the CDI. How do you want to honor your Japanese ancestors, your Korean ancestors, your Chinese ancestors, and be able to ask them to come in and be part of that? And then with the art community and music, it was “What do you want to see, because we can make this happen.” And then people are all so jazzed about, “Okay, this is what we want. We want to bring the concerts back,” or “We want to have quiet corners for areas of respite that maybe you’ve got classical music playing and quiet spaces.” I mean, we had thousands and thousands of hours of meetings and just asking people, “What do you want to see down here?”
DB: And when you do that over a period of time, how do you translate things? And I mean, what are the nuts and bolts of having lots of ideas from different parts of the community and then making them into the things that actually are down here physically manifested?
SB: Well, I want to honor some of the Seattle people who were working in the city of Seattle government at that time, Marshall Foster being primary among them, and he’s still working on this capital project. I mean, the guy had extraordinary vision and talent but then we would bring in consultants that would help us digest all of this. And some of it was like the old-fashioned stickies. What’s the most important to you? The blue, red, yellow, green, and begin to see how are people really feeling? Oftentimes you’ll call a public meeting and 12 people will come. We’d call a public meeting and hundreds would come.
DB: And for you personally, in your role, what were the frustrations of this?
SB: Well, you saw how long it’s taken to get here and we’ve had multiple public votes. And I was challenged by the debate about whether or not we’re going to have a tunnel, whether we’re going to rebuild the viaduct, and good people who are on all sides of the issue, good people that I love were saying, “No, we can’t do that. We don’t want to do that idea. Something’s going to be too expensive. Something’s going to happen. If you try to dig a tunnel, it’s just not going to work. You’re going to end up with Boston Big Dig.” And of course, when Bertha started, we had a two-year delay, when all that happened, we had the legal issues.
DB: And when you say all that, can you just …
SB: Oh, sure, sure. So. Bertha was built by a Japanese company and the contractor began to dig along parallel to the sea wall, and about the time the tunnel was supposed to turn and go northbound directly under this building, it got stuck. It just stopped. And then there’s the repercussions about, what are we going to do? It’s a hundred feet down, we can’t reach the front, and the company ended up coming in, digging in front of it, going down, getting the front piece that was actually the digging apparatus, lifting it up, putting something else down that was much stronger, bigger, had a larger drive train. But that took, I think, almost two years, so everything was stopped during that period of time.
DB: Were you still on the council at this point?
SB: Oh, absolutely. You’re watching it and everybody saying, “See, I told you it wasn’t going to work.” I mean, those are the frustrations, but it did work. Once they got it back together and started digging, it didn’t stop again.
DB: Do you remember when you found out that it was stuck?
SB: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
DB: What do you remember? I mean, was it just a thing of you’re sitting in your office and somebody comes in and goes, “I’ve got bad news for you”?
SB: I’ve got really bad news for you. It’s just like, “All right. How do you fix it? Let’s get people together. I want to know what we do, where we’re going, how we’re going to solve these problems.”
DB: It seems, when you’re recollecting it, that you’re very much like, “Okay, here’s a problem. Let’s figure out how to fix it.” Was it emotionally draining for you, though?
SB: Oh, well … I will tell you that being a council member, you run into things every day that you just don’t expect. And if I freaked out on everything that came my way that went wrong, it wouldn’t be a very happy time. I mean, seriously, you’d just have to take a deep breath, take a step back and say, “Okay, how do we fix this?” Now … did I feel that way on day one? There were probably … there was probably … you know somebody calls it the three As, which is you go home and you’re taking Aleve and maybe have a glass of wine and decide that tomorrow’s going to be another day and you get started again.
DB: Yeah. It’s interesting to me just how one operates in a public sphere like that, when there’s a lot of criticism that often is very personally oriented. Right?
SB: Well, absolutely. Yeah. And seriously, I learned … I didn’t read tweets. I would be careful about who I would give interviews to. Somehow, socially, we have emerged to a point where people take great joy in putting somebody else down. I don’t want to participate in that so I just try to keep doing my job as best I could, and in this particular case it was encouraging the engineers to find a solution, to let the lawyers know we weren’t giving up, and that we are going to follow through with this plan.
Sally Bagshaw – Part 2
In Part 2 of the interview, Bagshaw recounts how a vision for a tunnel evolved as a replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct; the involvement of James Corner Field Operations in re-inventing the waterfront; collaborative decision-making; implementing a Local Improvement District to fund part of the redevelopment; and her personal motivation for entering public life. 
Tunnel Evolution
SB: The original vision of the 2004 was, “Let’s take the viaduct down because then you have access to the waterfront that people haven’t seen since the 1950s,” so I would say that there was a real hardcore that was taking the viaduct down. Then there was another group that said, “Yes, take the viaduct down, but don’t build the tunnel because we’re really trying to do away with cars. We would rather invest in public transportation.”
Then there was business community people that were saying, “We’re growing exponentially. People are going to drive cars. If you don’t replace that with something down here, you’re going to end up with another freeway on the Waterfront.” We didn’t want that, so it really did take genuinely years to come up with a plan that people would accept. Remember we had a public vote and the public voters: “Do you want to have a cut-and-cover tunnel? Do you want to rebuild the viaduct? Do you want to put more lanes down?” And people came back saying, “We want a tunnel. That’s what we want.” And then there was a question and from an engineering design point of a cut-and-cover tunnel or the bored tunnel. From the standpoint of impact, the bored tunnel was going to have a much lower impact on the surface and the businesses and what was happening.
Initially, it was “It’s going to be too costly, it’s not going to happen.” Bruce Agnew with Cascadia was really the guy that came up with the formula about, “We can bore this tunnel and this will work. We can stay within budget to do that,” and he brought enough information. International engineers came forward and said, “Yes, we agree. We can do this.” And then there was a question of was it going to be two tunnels? And ultimately, they said, “Nope, we can build it. And we’ll have one level on top of the other.” And it was smaller than some of the tunnels now that are being bored, but at the time, it was one of the biggest boring machines around.
DB: Yeah. And I think at the time it was the biggest single bore tunnel in the world.
SB: I think that’s right in the world. Not the case now, there’s bigger. And then of course, all of the naysayers would be, “Well, you can’t do that. Look what happened to Boston Big Dig. Big delay, big cost overruns,” and some of that’s true and some of it went much more easily than people feared.
James Corner Field Operations, Big Ideas and Money
DB: When you look at the process as it is now [2022], where we’re maybe two years from completion or something like that, if you overlay that with the image that you had in your head 20 years ago, how do they line up?
SB: It’s extraordinary how much the design ideas that came out of the 2004 charrette are being put into play right now. I know we brought in James Corner. He was the architect designer of the Highline in New York, but he started with these designs from our local architects and the work that he’s done, it really is just making our local architects shine, in my opinion, because their ideas are being used.
DB: So when you were bringing in James Corner, there was an initial – as my recollection is – there was an initial vision that he had created and then it was scaled back and shifted and stuff. How did that process happen?
SB: That was mostly just finances. You know, we had the seawall levy and we had to pay for the seawall itself, but we also had some additional public funds that were going in there to restore Pier 62, 63. Turned out we couldn’t do them both, they had to choose, so they restored 62; 63 will come in the future. But some of his big ideas, they were just not affordable within the budget we had. And we still had to go back and get the local improvement district. And you’re sitting here in my home. We had a $9,000 additional assessment to pay for what’s going on in the waterfront. My humble opinion, that was money well spent because property values go up as things look pretty good down there, but there was a lot of opposition from the local improvement district.
DB: Was it hard to let go of some of those ideas from the Corner project, because I remember looking at the initial plans and being super excited and thinking this is going to be amazing. And then seeing it nibbled away out here, nibbled away out here and then …
SB: Well, frankly, that’s the way of public projects, that you have a big dream, which is important because if you don’t put a stake in the ground of, “This is what we want. This is what we look like,” it’ll start back and you’ll end up with just concrete freeways with a few trees as an afterthought. I would’ve loved to have been able to afford the whole thing, but as construction costs increased, as Port money, they’ve said, “Well, we will contribute to certain things. We’re not going to contribute to others.” King County did what it could. The City of Seattle stepped up to help with the roadway, moving lines, power lines, helping with the costs of the various waterfront elements.
I think we’ve done well, but it’ll be ongoing. What we will see in the next couple of years will be foundational … 20 acres of park and green space, it’s already coming along. You can see the trees that have been planted and I’m pleased that they actually put in pretty good-sized trees. Those will look great in years to come. And then over the years, some of the other designs can be resurrected and redone.
The 60% Point
DB: When you’re talking about those different competing interests, if we could put it that way, the Port and so on, how do you get to a point where everyone agrees without completely sinking the whole project?
SB: Yeah. Oh, that’s, I mean, that’s the rich point because if you can actually get to 60% saying, “Okay, 60%, we’re going to do this,” And there’s always people that want to go back and revisit a decision that was made yesterday and three weeks ago. And at some point you got to say, “We’ve made that decision. We’re moving forward.” “Well, I don’t like that.” “I’m sorry. The decision’s been made. We’re moving forward on that.” And it’s a constant and it’s a balance and you try to keep people as happy as you can.
DB: And are you happy in that moment where you’re having to say to someone, “We’re done with this”?
SB: No, of course not. My stomach’s in a knot and they’re growling at me and it’s usually a finger in my face of, “We’re never voting for you again.” I’m like, “Fine, but you voted for me last time. I’ve got a job to do and I’m doing that job.”
Personal Motivation and Public Life
DB: I’m very curious about the notion of a public figure, and you being a public figure on the council, involved in all the different things that you have these plates spinning, and then being a flesh and blood person with emotions and how you navigate that.
SB: That’s big question, big question you asked. How do you want me to unpack that?
DB: Any way you’d like.
SB: What motivated me to become an elected official? In all seriousness, I told you that I was enchanted by Obama and the idea of hope and the idea of bringing our country back together, which I believed that he had a good chance of doing. I mean, we’ve seen how things changed over the last 12 years, but I wanted to be part of that and believe that here in Seattle, we could bring people together to solve our complex problems, and we have zillion of them. I really felt like I’m bringing to the table a unique package of experiences as a 30-year lawyer, as I’ve lived here in Seattle area for now over 40 years, been deeply involved in things that I feel that matter like public education and public health and good transportation decisions, so I thought I’ve got something to bring and I did that. At no time during my elected career did I ever think, “Hey, I’m really cool.” That was not my motivation and it wasn’t what I felt. I felt I was doing a job and I was going to do the best job I could.
DB: Are those the same kinds of motivations that made you want to become a lawyer?
SB: That’s a whole different question because when I was going to law school, there were only 12 women in my law school class. And I wanted to do that because I thought it would give me a new set of tools to use. That was really my motivation.
DB: And where did you study?
SB: I was undergraduate in Northern California at Stanford. I was an Idaho resident. I went back to University of Idaho for law school and then came out and took the Washington bar and landed in Seattle.
DB: And did you grow up in Idaho?
SB: Partly. Born in Portland, Oregon and then when I was just about to go into junior high, my dad’s company was purchased by Boise Cascade and we moved to Boise and I went to junior high and high school there.
DB: What was your dad’s company?
SB: Salmon River Paper Company. He didn’t own it. He was an employee of it in Portland.
DB: What was Boise like after Portland?
SB: It was very dry.
DB: Very dry. Got it. Yeah. I’m curious, so 40 years you’ve lived here. Why do you love the city?
SB: Wow. Well, now, I’ve got 40 years of friends. Right? And leaving them would be a very difficult process. Frankly, I’m a 60 degree and overcast girl, that’s just fine by me, and I love the trees, the rhododendrons, the mountains, the water. It’s just part of me. So, I’m a believer that the city can do great things like it has done: the University of Washington leading with medical, biomedical, the fact that Amazon is here now doing some things that are pretty incredible. I’ve got great friends that have worked for Amazon from the starting days when they were employee number nine to seeing what they’ve done. And I think that this is a place that I’m willing to put up with the weather because I just appreciate what we’ve got.
Implementing A Local Improvement District 
DB: You mentioned about the LID and that that was difficult, so maybe we should talk a little bit about why was that such a difficult thing to …
SB: Well, honestly: because a lot of my friends don’t like paying taxes and they think government takes enough of their money, and they didn’t believe that the money would go in to really improve the waterfront. They thought they were just being … that money was being, frankly, extorted from them. On the other hand, we had a budget that put together government money, which was of all the governments we’ve talked about, and then we had private sector philanthropy. And in order for the private sector philanthropists to say they’re willing to put in big money, they wanted to know that the people that were living and working down here had a stake in it, too. So, it was a decision that was made: “Okay, we’ll go back and we’ll ask the local residents and businesses for fair contribution.” And it was done in a way, the assessment was done in a way that the closer you are, the more you paid, and makes a certain amount of sense to me, so I supported it all the way. And during my last year on the council, I mean, I had friends and neighbors that were just like, “Well, you should be in there trying to stop this.” I’m like, “Not only am I not stopping this, I completely support it and I think we just need to pay our fair share.”
DB: Are you able to maintain relationships when that’s happening?
SB: Sure. Sure. I mean, they’re mad at me for a month and then it’s like, “Come on. We’re working together here. I’m sorry you have to pay your $9,000, but frankly you can afford it.”
DB: Why was an LID an important part of that construction of the whole costing?
SB: Well, I think the LID … you’ll want to verify this number, but I think it was $178 million … that was almost equal to the amount that philanthropy was going to raise. So we wanted to demonstrate that people that were offering money for the Friends of the Waterfront, that they weren’t out there all by themselves: there was the government money, there were the grants that were brought in, there was local philanthropy and there was the stake that those of us who live and work down here paid.
This essay is part of HistoryLink’s People’s History collection. People’s Histories include personal memoirs and reminiscences, letters and other historical documents, interviews and oral histories, reprints from historical and current publications, original essays, commentary and interpretation, and expressions of personal opinion, many of which have been submitted by our visitors. They have not been verified by HistoryLink.org and do not necessarily represent its views.
Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
Sally Bagshaw
Courtesy Harvard University
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Allied Arts
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Design Ideas
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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City Council
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Seawall and Tribal History
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Community, Consultation, Setbacks
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Tunnel Evolution
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Big Ideas and Money
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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60 Percent Support
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Personal Motivation and Public Life
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
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Implementing a Local Improvement District
Interview by Jennifer Ott and Dominic Black
The Free Encyclopedia of Washington State History

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