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Photo Credit
Photo Credit: Kingdome, circa 1970s. Item 195628, Historic Building Survey Photograph Collection (Record Series 1629-01)

Bob Santos and the Kingdome: The Fight to Preserve Seattle’s Chinatown/International District

While the Kingdome provided a venue that attracted major league sports, conventions, and entertainment to Seattle, it also served as a catalyst for activists from the Chinatown-International District to preserve their historical community and demand the support they were promised to prevent harm from the impacts of such a facility in their neighborhood.

Seattle residents voted to approve a bill to support building a multi-purpose domed stadium on February 13, 1968. Construction began on November 2, 1972. The groundbreaking ceremony was interrupted by protestors from the Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square, and surrounding areas frustrated that the concerns they voiced about the stadium's effects on their neighborhood were not being addressed. During construction, further discussions surrounding the proposed parking plans and restrictions grew heated. Construction was completed in 1976 and the stadium opened on May 27th of that year.

Residents and business owners in the International District and Pioneer Square raised concerns regarding how traffic, parking, and potential displacement would further erode the community at a time when they were already struggling to make community social improvements such as low-income housing for the elderly and community health services. Some argued that the stadium and parking would drive business to the CID, however community concerns included diverting local business revenues away from the CID, noise pollution, and traffic congestion which could hinder access to emergency services. When asked to conduct a social impact, the Social Impact Task Force on the King County Multi-Purpose Stadium and Convention/Exhibit Center concluded that all of the feared negative impacts could happen as a result of the Kingdome, but that it was hard to precisely determine specifically how much blame could be placed on the stadium.

On September 4, 1975, Seattle Mayor Wes Ulhman filed Comptroller File 282260, a "proposed resolution adopting goals, objectives, and performance to be used in the development of the King County Stadium Parking and Access Plan" which was taken up by the Seattle City Council on September 7th.

On September 9, 1975, the Seattle City Council (SCC) held the first of three public hearings to hear public testimony regarding the proposed parking plan. Representatives from the Chinatown-International District advised the City to route traffic around the CID and ban parking in the CID during stadium events, while also urging the City to reprioritize funding for housing.

Bob Santos, Elaine Ko, Nemesio Domingo, and Mayumi Tsutakawa were among those to provide public comment during a series of hearings held by Seattle City Council's Committee of the Whole to discuss the Kingdome's parking and access plan. Representing the International District Improvement Association (INTER*IM), Santos's testimony focused on unmet commitments from the City to the CID - specifically, to address the CID's needs for housing improvement and social services promised to the community as part of Resolution 23844 in 1972. The second hearing was held on November 12, 1975 and a new plan was developed by JHK and Associates, contractors hired by City Council.

At the third hearing on December 18, 1975, Santos, Ko and others returned to City Hall to oppose the new parking plan which would impact Jackson Street, along with CID residents and businesses. The final plan was voted on by the Council in January 1976.

Audio Excerpts

Public Hearing - September 9, 1975

Bob Santos (listen to audio | download transcript)

Robert "Bob" Santos: My name is Bob Santos, Director of the International District Improvement Association. City Councilmembers, on behalf of the residents of the International District, I would like to address these comments to the City Council. In the Mayor's proposed resolution on the King County Stadium, the administration--the administration of the City once again reaffirms its commitment to preserving the International District. But without an adequate plan sensitive to the realities of life and business in the International District, this commitment rings hollow.

Preservation of the International District can be achieved only through a plan that ensures the residents of the District improved housing at a rental cost within the means of elderly Asian and other pensioners. The integrity of the International District lies in its unique residential population and the various ethnic, business and other community services which attract regular customers and clients to the District. There have been, as you know, continued discussion of upgrading the housing and living conditions in the International District. At this time, priority for the project to upgrade housing have been given to the Pike Place area and the Denny Regrade commercial area. This relegates the housing program in the International District to no priority at all, a condition which the International District has experienced for too long.

[...]

For too long, the International District has been relegated to a position of a politically expedient football with a history of insincere commitments for its improvement and preservation. Long overdue for assistance in meeting the health and Social Service needs of the district, the area has finally received an allocation of monies which will permit the partial development of programs. But without the additional support to preserve the community or residents in the District, the proposed programs will lose the very clientele for whom they were designed.

At present, as has been true of inter-city after inter-city across the United States, the residents of the International District-based displacement due to the increased cost of housing should private property owners and hotel owners seek unassisted bank loans. To permit both renovation and the preservation of the residential community of the district, reprioritization must occur. Reprioritization of the International District by the City of Seattle will in turn permit the International District to receive HUD money towards renovation of existing. Currently there are three proposals for the Section 8 Rent Supplement program submitted by International District property owners to HUD. With existing prioritization, these pro--proposals have little chance of being considered. Reprioritization is essential to the future of the District.

The International District is a fragile, but important part of the City of Seattle. In a pluralistic society, steps must be taken to ensure the preservation of each culturally distinct--distinct community.

If we fall victim once again to the blind racist economics, the opportunity to preserve this unique part of the City will be lost to all of us forever.

Elaine Ko (listen to audio | download transcript)

Elaine Ko: My name is Elaine Ko and I'm speaking for the Committee for Corrective Action Program in the International District. Umm, first, I'd like...

Councilmember Randy Revelle: Excuse me, your mailing address.

Ko: 416 8th Ave. South 98104.

Revelle: Thank you.

Ko: First, I'd like to strongly support Bob Santos demand for housing and re-prioritizing the ID area for money. Before I get into any concrete suggestions and additions to the Resolution, I'd like to make a few statements first for CAP. Umm, the views from CAP are contrary to those who advocated the placement of the stadium next to the International District and Pioneer Square. We speak here in the interest of the residents who never wanted the stadium there in the first. Thus, all these anticipated problems, which these guidelines are supposed to mitigate, we foresaw back in 1971. We feel that the guidelines are written in total disregard for the residents as was as the decision to put the stadium next to the International District and Pioneer Square areas. In reality, the International District will be suffocated by incredible noise, traffic, and air pollution, as well as tourists, no matter how effective these guidelines may read.

Secondly, we'd like to put forth some concrete suggestions to the resolution, and this could be addressed to the City Council and the JHK associates. First, in the assumptions area, it says under "short-range and long-range goals" that go up to 1980 and beyond, nowhere is there any reference to or consideration that there will be any residents left in the International District. Thus, we suggest strongly that you rewrite these assumptions to include the pres--presence of residents and their needs. On page 9, in the socio-economic aspect of the goals and objectives, it says, "preserve community integrity." Again, there is no mention or reference to residents in the International District who--who this the stadium will impact the most. We disagree strongly with the philosophy behind your idea of preservation of the community integrity. On the second point, where it says, "maintain security and safety" and that's it. We would like to add, "maintain security and safety in the interests of the residents from any noise, traffic, and air pollution" and also add, "maintain their permanent residency."

On the third point...I think it's the...[counts in a whisper] 5th point, where it says, "provide police security in high-risk areas." We don't feel we need any more police in this area. The only need we have for police will be to redirect traffic and tourists completely around the International District. So, while the City spends a lot of time working on these resolutions and guidelines with these associates, we feel that they should start putting their words into practice. The Committee for Corrective Action Program is now working on meeting some of the needs of the residents, which have been neglected for so many years. That is what "community integrity" means to us. "Meeting" that means meeting the critical housing needs, the health needs, and nutrition needs among others. Thus, we strongly urge the City and other government officials to start taking concrete actions towards their primary responsibility. Also, "community integrity" also means to respect the rights of the residents to live where they want and also in the environment they want. We expect the City governments to take--to make significant safeguards to ensure this right.

And finally, we suggest to the associates that are writing up the plan that they set up periodic meetings with the people of the International District and Pioneer Square areas to ensure that all of the points raised tonight will be put into practice. Thank you.

Revelle: Thank you.

Mayumi Tsutakawa (listen to audio | download transcript)

Mayumi Tsutakawa: My name is Mayumi Tsutakawa.

Revelle: Tsutakawa? Thank you.

Tsutakawa: And, um, let me see. I'm going to speak as a community person. I wrote downthe Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the International District Youth Council, but I'm going to speak as a community person who regularly visits and—and shops in the District. And I'm not a resident of the District, though I'd like to be. A lot of these people would like to be residents of the District, but as it is, there isn't enough housing for the kind of--for the people who have lived there all their lives. That's not the main point that I'd like to make though. The--the kinds of concerns that people are bringing out today should not be seen as, you know, off the subject or arguing whether the stadium should be built, umm, as you preface the—the--the hearing tonight. With, umm, the kinds of concerns that people are bringing out are--are in order to help people get a wide view, a general view or a more broad view of the kinds of problems. I mean, of course, we--we appreciate a document like this pointing out some real specific little points, but on the other hand, umm, like Jackie Lum from the Asian Planners Association was bringing out, that despite the fact that you have some very specific points in--within the performance standards, you—you, uh, not only don't have the specific points that deal with the kinds of socio--socioeconomic problems that refer specifically to residents, but you also don't have performance standards that relate to more of the long range damage that may occur. For example, when you say, "retail sales and other measures of business activity" – umm, although we don't, we're not saying that we don't want retail sales – at the same time, you're not saying how many lives may be lost, or how many people may get sick, or how many people, umm, may get, uh, abused by the traffic that will go through the stadium...go, that will have to do with the stadium. A specific concern that I have that, umm, that hasn't been brought up yet is, umm, not only do we not want the intrusion of--of the ve-vehicular traffic that has to do with the stadium, uh, but we have to remember that a lot of the people that use the District, who live in the District and shop in the District, umm, use the—the, umm, public transportation system and on page 6 under "goals and objectives" it says, that, uh, "we want to maintain existing transport functions and using--user equity during stadium events." Well, I would have to see a--a very good rationale or a very good explanation for how it is that people who use public transportation who may not have cars are, umm, not going to have, uh, their normal daily function changed by the kinds of traffic during the stadium events. Umm, I guess, I guess that's about all.

Nemesio Domingo (listen to audio | download transcript)

Nemesio Domingo: My name is Nemesio Domingo and I'm representing the Alaska Cannery Workers Association. I'm the director of the group. Our mailing address is 416 8th Ave South. Alaska Cannery Workers Association has concern on this resolution because almost 1/4 of the residents of the International District are active and former cannery workers. Alaska Cannery Workers Association is also the publisher of the International Examiner, the community paper for the International District. ACWA takes a very cynical outlook on a domed stadium, primarily because it is not a project designed to really improve the quality of life for the citizens of Seattle. It is basically...a project that is geared to quick profits in terms of sports events. In terms of the District, it is a physical white elephant in the community because a great portion of the time - that the stadium is not going to be used - it will be a practically gigantic ghost town right next to the District. And in some parts of the year, the shadow of the domed stadium will physically cover the International District. [Revelle whispering in background periodically]

We have a great concern of the traffic and would like to present four points that are in the, um, Resolution. They're under the assumptions that we feel that these four points need to be highlighted. The four points talks about, you know, preserving the residential character and small business of the International District. These are the two things that make the International District unique. Umm., If the International District cannot continue as a residential area of Third World people - and in many senses a regional shopping area for Third World people - that the District will be lost and what we'll get, essentially, is a plastic commercial area that is pretty much signified by the Pioneer Square. In its relationship to how to preserve the International District, the point comes in concerning how do you raise money for the District? We certainly don't want to make the International District something that will be a monkey on the backs of the citizens of Seattle.

One proposal that we have which is not mentioned in the Resolution is that there be a special admission tax levied on the stadium so that the users of the, umm, domed stadium can help finance some of the projects necessary to maintain the International District. And this relates to what Doug Chinn related to and that is that there needs to be funds allo--allocated to the District in terms of operations and programs. Then we think that admission tax, which I believe is within the realm of the County, or the City Council here could--could help implement.

Public Hearing - December 18, 1975

Bob Santos (listen to audio | download transcript)

Revelle: Bob Santos.

[clapping]

Santos: Bob Santos, ummm, Director of the International District Improvement Association, 627 South Jackson Street. Uh, I just have a short statement here I'd like to read.

Interim is in support of the basic recommendations regarding the transportation and parking strategies prepared by GHK and Associates. However, Interim...

[laughter]

...is opposed to the GHK's proposal to have Jackson Street used for egress and ingress during domed stadium events. The International District, as a commercial business area, will be detrimentally impacted by the traffic congestion resulting from stadium events. Prime time for patronage of the International District businesses, also coincides with the expected prevent traffic on weekends. Interim feels that this congestion will act as a deterrent to regular patrons of the International District businesses, thus cutting off important revenues.

In addition, those businesses located on Jackson Street require the parking spaces for them to function normally. The International District must also be recognized...as a unique residential community of seventeen hundred persons. Jackson Street as an access to and from the stadium will cut through the middle of this community, imposing difficultly for the residents. The community is composed of primarily low-income elderly, whose normal lives will be disrupted by additional traffic, resulting in the noise and air pollution and restriction of--of activities. Therefore, Interim strongly urges that Jackson Street be used for local access only, allowing commercial vehicles to reach destinations in the International District, Pioneer Square and the--and in the industrial areas of south, east, and west of the stadium. Jackson Street, normally being used as a major arterial for ambulances and, uh, fire engines and other emergency vehicles, should remain uncongested to--to facilitate easy access to the residences of the ID, uh, International District, as well as possible entries in and near the stadium. Fire station on 2nd and Main, as well as ambulances and many flood units, from First Hill use Jackson Street where emergency services to the International District and back again, uh, to the Pioneer Square areas. This access should remain open which is not feasible when Jackson Street is congestion--congested with stadium traffic. It is imperative that parking not be prohibited on Jackson Street. Thank you.

Revelle: Thank you, Bob.

The full meetings can be heard online:

  • Public hearing, Seattle City Council Committee of the Whole, September 9, 1975. Event 3084, City Council Audio Recordings (Record Series 4601-03)
  • Public hearing, Seattle City Council Committee of the Whole, December 18, 1975. Event 6241, City Council Audio Recordings (Record Series 4601-03)

Minutes for both meetings are available here:

Municipal Archives, City Clerk

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