Uniquely positioned over Interstate 5, Freeway Park provides 5.2 acres of open space between Seattle’s Downtown and First Hill neighborhoods.

But a bad reputation and design challenges have resulted in lower usage of the area that the city’s parks department and Freeway Park Association are working to fix.

Finding Freeway Park is a community design and planning process to improve signage, park entryways, lighting, utilities, landscaping and activation.

Following several community meetings that included landscape architecture firm SiteWorkshop, the Freeway Park Association made a final presentation to the public on Saturday, Sept. 16. A park survey was completed the day before, and will be up for at least two months, said Riisa Conklin, Freeway Park Association executive director.

Kelsey Meden took the survey on Saturday. She works for a design firm in a building adjacent to the park.

“Safety and liveliness,” are what Meden is concerned about.

“There’s just not a lot of people that go in there,” she said.

There is a dark area near the Washington State Convention Center that Meden avoids, she said, and a lack of seating discourages work meetings in the park.

“The entries aren’t very well marked,” she said. “You don’t know why you should go in here.”

There are 12 entrances to Freeway Park, and SDOT is providing funding to improve seven of them, Conklin said.

The first phase of improvements will be to SDOT-owned right of way spaces around the park, such as customizing crosswalks and installing wayfinding signage.

“We’re hoping that the SDOT work can inform the rest of the park work,” Conklin said.

The Freeway Park Association has a $500,000 Neighborhood Street Fund grant from the Department of Neighborhoods it needs to use by March 2018.

“We are proposing a couple things that are nonstandard,” Conklin said, such as blade signage, which she added SDOT has already approved for Swedish Medical Center’s First Hill Mile project.

The Freeway Park Association has identified $10 million in project costs for improvements inside the park, and is asking the convention center to cover those costs through its WSCC Addition public benefits package. While the convention center had been offering just $1 million to improve Freeway Park, Conklin said WSCC has come closer to meeting the association’s request during recent meetings. The Seattle Design Commission is having trouble qualifying a rooftop garden attached to the WSCC Addition and marketed as the Pine Street Public Garden as a public benefit.

Seattle Parks & Recreation would manage the fund once established and carry out the plan as a new capital project.

“It’s layered and complex,” said Taj Hanson of SiteWorkshop about the challenges that come with improving a park that lids an interstate, “but that was one of the main reasons we went after it.”

Freeway Park has restroom facilities, but they’ve been closed since 2002, Conklin said, when a murder occurred there. A woman was stabbed to death, and police partially blamed the park’s “maze of pathways” for the suspect’s escape. While the park has become considerably safer since then, Conklin said, this incident still contributes to a persistent bad reputation.

Among the proposed improvements is a comfort station for $700,000. Conklin said the design would emulate what Bryant Park has in terms of staff to ensure safety and cleanliness. Once Cal Anderson Park’s restroom facility is renovated, such staff will also be provided.

Other proposals to activate Freeway Park include a play space for children, a performance shelter and bouldering wall.

“People have suggested this for years, people from all around the community,” Conklin said of the bouldering wall, due to Seattle’s active parkour community.

Mike Courtney agrees.

“My son loves to go bouldering, so I think a bouldering wall would be massive,” he said.

Courtney works two blocks west of the park, and said he and others from his office frequently take breaks and lunch there.

“One of the really wonderful things is what a touch of nature we have right here in the city,” he said. “I think these proposed improvements are fantastic.”

He does believe Freeway Park has a problem with signage and wayfinding, and said he doesn’t want the public space to remain a secret.

“I don’t think a lot of people know how to get into and through the park,” Courtney said.