Just past the northern tip of Myrtle Edwards Park--a long, skinny park on the waterfront in the industrial Interbay neighborhood--there's a lush garden under construction, overlooking a public fishing pier on choppy Puget Sound. Plants are sitting in pots, waiting to be stuck into the ground, and dirt is piled alongside the park's paved jogging and bike paths. The new garden should be finished by spring, but don't expect to stroll through it the next time you visit Myrtle Edwards. The garden is on the private property of biotechnology giant Amgen, which is nearing completion of its $625 million waterfront research facility, and the newly landscaped open space is walled off from the public by a black metal fence.
Neighbors are irked that California-based Amgen--which bought the large waterfront property through a controversial 1998 "sweetheart" deal with the Port of Seattle--is adding insult to injury by walling off a large section of the formerly-public waterfront that neighbors thought would remain publicly accessible, like an extension of Myrtle Edwards Park.
"They've taken and privatized this park for their employees," complains Kevin Buckley, who manages the Olympus apartment building at the other end of Myrtle Edwards Park. Real-estate developer and former Seattle Design Commission member Scott Surdyke has been spreading the word about the new garden all week. "Hasn't... waterfront open space become one of the most talked about issues in Seattle's urban environment?" Surdyke wrote in an e-mail to greenspace boosters at Allied Arts, neighborhood folks, and city officials on January 21. "Is the 'gated office park' a new prototype for the future of Seattle's waterfront?" Allied Arts president David Yeaworth, himself a waterfront advocate, was also unhappy when he heard about the fence. "To have a private park on the waterfront is just antithetical to the Seattle way of doing things," Yeaworth says.
This isn't the first time the Amgen project has been under fire. In 1998, when then-locally owned Immunex bought its 29 acres of prime waterfront space from the Port of Seattle for just $13.5 million (the city, county, and Port agreed to fund a vehicle overpass to improve access to the property), plenty of people dubbed it a "sweetheart deal." Now that the project's almost finished--employees started moving in this month--folks are upset that Amgen isn't being neighborly.
"It's hard to believe Amgen would be so irresponsible, self-motivated, and selfish to not share the land that the city gave them at a severely discounted rate," Buckley says. However, Amgen, which did not return calls, is not required to grant public access to its campus, according to the city. "The fenced area is the private area of the site," says Alan Justad of the city's Department of Planning and Development. And the company already provided one acre of public space via a walkway from the pedestrian bridge to the waterfront, Justad says.