Boom Big Box vs. Little Saigon
Big box. Mall. Northgate. These are the words that Darrell Vange does not use when talking about the colossal project he’s proposed for a 10-acre site that lies northwest of Rainier Avenue South and South Dearborn Street.
There’s a commercial district two blocks away — Little Saigon, at the intersection of 12th and Jackson. About 10 of these first and second-generation Vietnamese businessowners attended the June 27 design review meeting, and Vange’s presentation sounded to them like big box, mall, and Northgate, all of which could spell doom for their district.
“This project has the potential to displace this community,” says Danny Tran, of JTD Real Estate, on 12th near Jackson.
Before we consider that issue, let’s get a visual overview of this project’s massive scale. Using Microsoft’s new mapping toy, here is a look at the site:
Sorry it’s so small, but it’s hard to zoom because the site’s so big. That’s Rainier Avenue running along the picture’s right side. And that’s Dearborn along the bottom, which is the southern border. At the top is Weller Street, which represents the site’s northern border. It reaches west to 13th Avenue South.
Most of this site (7.5 acres of it) is owned by Goodwill. That’s its thrift store in the middle of the photo and its warehouses to the right. Goodwill has needed a new building for some time. About seven years ago the nonprofit was set to trade its land for a new building, but the developer Wright Runstad had planned to sell office space to dot-commers. When the dot-coms went bust so did the new Goodwill building.
In swooped Vange, who had been eying the site since the mid-1990s. And rather than offices he envisions a mix of retail and residential. Lots and lots of both. Goodwill get its new building, a sprawling 120,000 square feet, part of which will be the thrift store. Here is the view of the current Goodwill from Dearborn and Corwin.
We’ll zoom in.
And this is the new Goodwill:
Thanks to TRF Pacific for the rendering
The thrift store is on the ground floor. Above that will be the adult education classrooms.
But in addition to the Goodwill site, Vange and Ravenhurst Development plan 600,000 square feet of retail. Consider that Northgate North (anchored by Target and Best Buy) is only about 400,000. And if you want to understand what has Little Saigon worried, its commercial district is only about 200,000 square feet.
More photos and details about the conflict with Little Saigon after the jump.
What can you do with 600,000 square feet of retail? Vange says he's courting two "very large tenants" (read: big box, like Home Depot, Office Depot, Target, Best Buy, etc.), four medium tenants (like a grocery store or bank), and 30-40 small tenants (which will include restaurants, cell phone stores, hair salons, dry cleaners and the like).
So this plot of land along Dearborn, near Corwin . . .
would look like this:
You can see how there will be two stories of retail and that there wil be a courtyard in the middle.
On the right side of that rendering, you can make out the entrance to the parking garage below the shopping center. Vange says this site will have 2,000 parking spaces. But since it's a sloped site, Vange says most of those parking spots will built into the slope and appear to be underground. There is no surface parking.
Vange didn't want to compare his development to another; he said "There are no projects in the country similar to this." But I told him that -- except for the lack of surface parking -- it reminded me of University Village, and he said it was a fair comparison.
But the other major difference is that the proposal calls for 3 - 4 stories of residential development over the retail. This is a mammoth mixed-use project, which Vange hopes makes it seem more urban than suburban. He is currently negotiating with apartment developers who would buy the space above the retail, then develop it as he sees fit. Some of the apartments will qualify as affordable housing (80 percent of Seattle mean income) and the rest, says Vance, will be "moderately priced." He doesn't yet know the ratio of one to the other.
While Vange swears the project won't resemble Northgate (or Southcenter) in the least, he says it will attract shoppers from downtown who want Northgate-style stores in a more pedestrian environment. He also is targeting Madison Park, Capitol Hill, the Denny Regrade, Beacon Hill and Central District.
Currently, there is no road connecting Dearborn with Weller. This project calls for one, and Vange contends this will lead pedestrians to wander out of his development toward Little Saigon.
In addition the development will add a road that is accessible from Rainier. Here is a picture looking west across Rainier, from Lane Street.
And here is that same view, with the artist rendering.
But all of these plans depend on a contract re-zone. Currently, the site is zoned industrial and the building height limit is 65 feet. Vange is asking for a neighborhood commercial designation, with a height increase to 85 feet.
He is optimistic because those standards are the same as the ones recommended by the Department of Planning and Development's South Downtown planning project, which issued a preliminary report last year. Those recommendations will go before City Council for approval next summer. Because this is a quasi-judicial matter, council members cannot publicly express opinions about the proposed changes in code.
The opposition in Little Saigon and -- to a slightly lesser extent -- the International District will complicate the politics of this decision. It pits the council's interest in promoting density against its interest in the health of minority-owned businesses.
I have spoken to businessowners in Little Saigon and I will have much more from their perspective in next week's issue. Generally speaking, they are most concerned about how the in flux of new residents and stores will affect the automobile traffic -- which is a major problem even now. Little Saigon businessowners do not believe pedestrians will leave the confines of the new shopping center, and that they will lose some of their current customers to those stores. Finally, they are concerned about how the shopping center and apartments will affect the urban character of their neighborhood.