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The tricky puzzle of remaking Yesler Terrace
How do you tear down and rebuild a neighborhood when you have lives being lived there? How do you ensure a permanent stock of low-income housing in the neighborhood? How do you redraw the lines for parks and streets? How do you pay for it all?
These are some of the questions underlying the future rebuild of the Yesler Terrace neighborhood on First Hill (that's Harborview in the lower left of the picture with the Yesler neighborhood in the center of the picture). Yesler, the first public housing "project" in the nation to be racially integrated, dates back to 1941 and survives as Seattle's oldest publicly subsidized housing community. It has a rich history of receiving, nurturing and launching individuals and families.
Pointing to the age and distress of the buildings, combined with the need to generate income for rebuilding the low-income housing, Seattle Housing Authority (Yesler's owner and operator) has proposed a massive, multi-year redevelopment that would replace and upgrade the current 561 low-income housing units, reconfigure the street grid, sell off some of the property to allow market-rate housing and office space to be built in the neighborhood, and add parks and open space.
While this is an SHA project, they need partners (including a big development partner with money, the City and the federal government) to pull this off. The City Council will be asked this summer to change the zoning in order to allow taller buildings. The upzone would make it possible to construct taller buildings (SHA and builders of low-income housing would likely build no higher than six stories while private, market-rate developers might go as high as 30 stories) and make the property more valuable to private developers envisioning the views west toward Elliott Bay. The City will also be asked to vacate portions of current streets running through Yesler so they can be redrawn; define new park and public plaza areas; and contribute City funds to remake the low-income housing.
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This is possibly the largest proposed redevelopment of public housing in the country right now. That's the macro level. At the micro level, it's a place where more than 1,100 people live today. It's a neighborhood and community across a harsh canyon of concrete and cars (I-5) and connected to the rest of First Hill, the Central District, and Little Saigon. The proposed redevelopment will play out over 15-20 years, according to SHA projections. Job 1 is protecting the low-income housing stock and ensuring a safe community people can enjoy calling home. However, Job 1 can't be done without the money made possible by the other redevelopment pieces. It's a tricky puzzle.
I want to make sure if and when this redevelopment happens, it's done right. Though we have not yet formally received the redevelopment proposal, Council has already begun advanced briefings on Yesler with help from SHA and our own staff. I anticipate we'll receive the proposal in June. If you have comments on the project, please send them along to me and my colleagues. Councilmembers' email addresses can be found here. Later this summer we'll also hold a public hearing at Yesler Terrace. That'll be another good opportunity to express your opinions and to hear those of others. For more information, go to the Council's Yesler Terrace website or call David Yeaworth in my office at 206-684-8802.
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Arena Proposal – game under way
With the delivery to the City and County Councils of the arena proposal on May 15, tip off has happened and the ball is now in play. Pre-game was interesting. A lot of guessing as to whoChris Hansen's other investors might be. A lot of basketball fans cheering for the return of a team. A lot of others responding that we seem to be doing just fine without one. Many concerned that SODO has never been the right place for sports palaces and that having two there already doesn't make it OK to add a third.
In case you've missed the news, here are the basics: investor Chris Hansen (with the help of so-far-unnamed allies) has purchased the SODO Stadium District land necessary to build an arena and would buy an NBA team when one becomes available (another group would need to purchase and move in a hockey team). Mr. Hansen would spend $290 million on building the arena and likely spend around $500 million for a team. The City and County would participate by selling bonds up to a total of $200 million. That debt would be paid back over time via rent payments and taxes "captured" from the site and arena operations (city property taxes, city business and occupation taxes, city lease excise taxes, city sales tax, and city admissions tax). The team owners would operate the new arena and enjoy profits off the activities inside. The NBA team would have a no-relocate requirement for the 30-year term of the bonds.
The City and County would own a little bit of arena from the start and take full ownership of the land and building at the end of the 30 years. The proposal delivered earlier this month signs the City up to issue $120 million of debt and King County to issue $80 million of debt.
The legislation now before us, which took more than nine months to build, will take a little time to unpack. That unpacking will start soon through Councilmember Tim Burgess' Government Performance & Finance Committee (sign up for agendas here). There are issues related to a street change, but that's further down the calendar. First, we must determine if this proposal is a good one for the city financially. I've heard strong concerns about tax payer liability, impact on Key Arena revenues, impacts of traffic on jobs and businesses connected to the Port of Seattle, and about whether we can afford to use our debt capacity for this when we have other necessary projects on our list.
I like basketball and I think professional sports can bring great excitement to a city. The big question is whether city taxpayers have to be part of the business model. A Seattle Times editorial recently said the proposal needs an unsentimental, "cold-blooded" review and reminded readers that the Kingdome bond payment responsibilities outlived the Dome itself. Ouch. The editorial also said voters should have to approve any public bonds for the arena. You'll have an opportunity to let us know what you think of that idea at a public hearing to be scheduled in either June or July.
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Sally spent part of the morning of April 25th at West Seattle Elementary
to promote financial literacy for young people. The class of first graders learned
about the importance of saving money.
Seattle's aging waterfront seawall
Seems like we've been talking about the deteriorating Elliott Bay Seawall for a while. Don't tune out, though, because it's about to get more interesting. We may be at the point where we know enough about how to replace the central waterfront stretch of the wall and how much it will cost to put a request out to voters this November. We'll review everything the engineers, designers and number-crunchers think they know between now and July.
Most of us have never seen the seawall except if you look back while taking a ferry to Bainbridge or Bremerton. The natural shoreline of more than 100 years ago is somewhere around Second Ave. The rest of what we walk on (and built on) between Second and the existing seawall is fill. The wall holds it in, keeps it from sloughing down into Elliott Bay. The wall made the west edge of downtown possible. It's why we had a booming commercial waterfront for so many decades and now have a civilized, entertaining (though traffic-heavy) waterfront.
Little by little the seawall is deteriorating, not to mention that it needs to be reinforced to withstand an earthquake. It is 100 years old in some places, and it's being eaten away by gribbles (water termites). It's publicly owned, so we're the ones who need to pull out the checkbook.
It's not an easy-to-fix piece of infrastructure, to say the least. Some of the work to replace it needs to be done in water, and most of the work happens in and around the existing seawall. "Jet grouting," pumping watery cement into the fill behind the wall to firm it up, promises to be messy. Adjacent businesses and the freight and shipping industry must survive construction. While we're down there, we have a huge opportunity to improve conditions for marine life in the area. The section of the seawall that is in most urgent need of replacement is the span running from Washington Street in Pioneer Square to Pine Street near the Pike Place Market.
We've been talking with friends about assisting with funding for the project (current project estimates clock in at $300 million total) to supplement and decrease the amount of money needed from voters. We have $30 million dedicated from King County Flood Control District, which helps fund retaining walls and the channeling of water. We have an ongoing discussion with the Army Corps of Engineers for whether they can share in the work. The Army Corps has been a great partner in the environmental assessment for project.
So, from now through July, the Council will ensure we have a comprehensive understanding of the design and cost, that we'll be able to coordinate construction efforts with the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and that businesses can continue to earn their livelihood (whether tourism or freight traffic). If, by July, we have those assurances and we have a good plan, then we'll put the question out to voters on November's ballot.
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Sally met April 10 with participants in the American Council of Young Political Leaders delegation from Japan. Young adult leaders participate in an exchange program to learn how governments function in America. Don’t worry – Sally didn’t do too much damage, County Councilmember Joe McDermott was present at all times.
If you see something, say something
For most of Seattle this past weekend was about the start of summer, even though that’s still three weeks way. Depending on your interests you had fun at Folklife, worked in the yard, camped, took kids to end-of-season ballgames, grilled, remembered those who have passed away, honored those who have served in the armed forces, or some combination of all. For Justin Ferrari’s family Memorial Day will forever have a different meaning. Following Ferrari’s death Thursday more bullets hit people and property in a handful of different places around Seattle. Whether the violence was gang-related or whether it happened in neighborhoods where it’s happened before may matter technically for how we respond to prevent it from happening again, but it doesn’t matter much to bystanders.
There is good violence prevention work happening in the community with Seattle Police Department, with community crime prevention teams, with Seattle Public Schools, with agencies like the Boys and Girls Club and Atlantic Street Center. There have been arrests and, no doubt, there will be more. Arrests can take dangerous individuals off the street and help set expectations, but true change involves more. Still there’s a wide chasm between lives in our city, the lives of people for whom resorting to a gun isn’t in their mental universe and the lives of people who wouldn’t consider heading out into the day without a pistol. The disregard for life, the lack of care for consequences – these must change. That’s work for all of us every day.
You can hear SPD’s briefing of Councilmembers Tuesday morning, May 29, here. If you’re interested in learning more about the investigations and proactive violence prevention work, watch for Councilmember Bruce Harrell’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee meeting on June 6.
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The little black sheep that is the SODO light rail station –
and how to bring it into the fold
Much of our collective civic attention has been drawn to SODO recently due to the proposed sports arena (more on that subject in another part of this newsletter), but SODO has been a focus of debate about jobs and market forces for a long, long time. I believe the manufacturing and shipping action that happens all day and night in SODO is fundamental to our economic health. I wouldn't trade it away for anything.
That's not to say that industry and uses can't morph over time. Manufacturing and shipping processes change over time. Research and development take on different forms.
And then you plunk a light rail station down in the middle of it all.
The SODO light rail station has been a curiosity to me for a while. When I ride rail I watch a few people get on or off in the morning, but not many. No one rides light rail down to shop Home Depot or a granite countertops showroom. In research we found it's highly unusual to have a light rail stop in an industrial area. So what's it doing there? What should it be doing there?
Last year I asked the Council to fund a study of what could be done to increase both the number of jobs around the SODO station and the number of people who get to those jobs by train. We asked about land use solutions and comparisons to peer cities. We told the researchers we weren't looking to obliterate industrial uses; instead we are looking for compatible ways to increase jobs around the station.
Community Attributes produced the study for us and presented the findings to the Committee on Economic Resiliency & Regional Relations on May 1. One of the interesting (and obvious) points the report makes is that industrial areas have lower transit numbers partly because by definition these areas count fewer employees. Industrial businesses need a lot of space for machinery, staging, assembly, etc. In most cases these businesses have fewer employees per square foot than an office building, for instance. Some people see this as an inefficient use of land, but for the machinist, welder or shipper, it fits just right.
Here are a few of the CAI observations and recommendations:
- A carefully crafted "industrial mixed-use overlay" (a special set of rules attached to the zoning) for the properties within a half-mile of the station would allow flexibility for more office space than currently allowed.
- The City should develop a North SODO Transit Oriented Development master plan that includes transit-supportive land use uses, streetscape improvements, infrastructure commitments, street design rules and maybe incentives for concentrating denser uses in key locations.
- Analyze infrastructure needs and capital improvement for roads, sidewalks and utilities, then invest.
- Better define the kinds of research and development (R&D) uses we would like to see in the area in order to decrease uncertainty for potential developers and businesses.
The study also looked at which sectors provide living wage jobs (tagged by Community Attributes as $35,000 annually for a single person). Though the manufacturing sector provides the most industrial jobs in King County, only 23% of them provide a living wage to people without a bachelor's degree. On the other hand, 47% of the wholesale and transport sector jobs pay a living wage to employees without a degree.
I can't help but think the SODO station area presents an opportunity to maintain our industrial base while allowing in compatible users who might bring more jobs paying decent wages. Now that we have the report I'm looking to take the next steps toward an overlay, better use definitions and an infrastructure investment plan.
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Ocean Beauty – a big fish story
When you think of the types of business sectors we have in Seattle it's easy to mentally jump to jets, coffee and software. But when you think about an icon for the Northwest, few would challenge the salmon as our region's reigning champion symbol.
Our local economy and our dinner tables have long benefited from the annual salmon harvest in Alaska. Seattle is home to a significant portion of the Alaska fishing fleet and several "fishy" businesses, large and small, are headquartered here.
Sally with Dave Gering, BINMIC, and Mark Palmer, President & CEO of Ocean Beauty
I recently toured one of those businesses. Ocean Beauty is a 102 year-old business located on the ship canal, southeast of the Ballard Bridge. They're a fish processing company, but that's a dry way of saying they make delicious things from fish and send the products all over the world. Mark Palmer, Ocean Beauty's President and CEO, explained that they provide hundreds of jobs to people in a variety of fields, including administration, logistics, mechanics, transportation and, of course, fishing. Ocean Beauty doesn't do the fishing, but they contract with the boats that do.
Ocean Beauty processes the salmon and other fish (Pollock, hake, mussles, tobiko and more) into more than 1,200 packaged products, some fresh some packaged. Ocean Beauty has offices in China and Japan and distributors in Europe, as well. Seattle is strategically located to be the American distribution hub. We watched workers thaw, skin, prep and package the last of the 2011 take.
On these tours I get to learn what a company like Ocean Beauty does and I get to learn what holds them back. We can't take for granted that a company like Ocean Beauty will choose Seattle and stay forever. Mark had plenty to tell me about difficulties with access road maintenance and feedback later about zoning rules, too. Mark, I'm looking into it.
As we walked through Ocean Beauty's offices on the way to the prep and freezer areas, many of the cubicles were empty. Staff is already on their way up to Alaska for this year's harvest. In fact, Copper River salmon just started this week. I think I know what's for dinner this weekend.
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Survey - How we can create jobs for young adults in Washington State
Washington State ranks 9th worst in the nation in young adult employment, and only 43% of young adults are working. To help address this critical issue, Community Forums Network has launched a statewide survey "How To Improve Young Adult Employment" that will last until June 17th. If you have a moment, please consider filling it out.
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Seattle's Office of Economic Development sends out a daily email with the top economic news of the day. Here are the 12 most clicked articles for April:
- The 7 restaurants that define Seattle dining now
- How seven simple words can save a business conversation gone wrong
- Most popular cities: Seattle #1
- The most and least peaceful places in America: Seattle #3
- Best and worst jobs of 2012
- Ballard home featured on MSNBC's "Listing of the Week"
- Construction begins on Seattle waterfront Ferris wheel
- 9 ways to get more out of Google Analytics
- 3 hot demographics your business can profit from in 2012
- Stop working more than 40 hours a week
- Seattle has four of only eight certified organic restaurants in the U.S.
- 7 tips for naming your business
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