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Friday, December 1, 2006

Shorter Pike-Pine Feature for the Attention-Deficient

posted by on December 1 at 11:34 AM

Seattlest gets it, the Weekly doesn’t.

This week, I wrote a story about changes coming to the Pike-Pine neighborhood, where a six-story condo development is displacing seven locally owned, independent businesses. (Another proposed development threatens four more, including neighborhood institution Linda’s.) I argued that while density is generally a positive development when it replaces empty lots and industrial uses (as new condos did in Belltown), tearing down the things that make a neighborhood desirable in the first place is bad. People want to move to Pike-Pine because of its “character”; therefore, new developments that destroy that character, rather than filling in empty or underutilized lots, are bad.

Quite a few people seem not to have read the entire article, and have accused me of being a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard-er) when, as the Weekly’s editor put it, it affects my “favorite watering hole,” the Cha Cha. Leaving aside the fact that I hadn’t set foot inside the Cha Cha for several years before visiting for this story, I’d like to offer a few relevant paragraphs for those too lazy to read the entire thing. (Bolds helpfully added.) Mark Fefer, you’re welcome.

The pace of development is unprecedented for the area, and on par with that in a much different center-city neighborhood—Belltown, where condo towers replaced a wasteland of parking lots, warehouses, and unused industrial space. There was some grumbling about the loss of a relative handful of independent businesses in Belltown (like the original Cyclops, World Pizza, and the Ditto Tavern), but development of mostly derelict land in that neighborhood led to a greater gain (dense, if pricey, housing for people who might have otherwise moved to the suburbs). By contrast, the newest development in Pike/Pine threatens to displace the good stuff that’s already there: the independent bars, clubs, shops, and restaurants that made the area desirable to developers in the first place.
Contrast these and other block-razing proposals with developments that have gone up on empty or underutilized lots in the neighborhood: the Braeburn and Cameo developments on 14th Avenue and East Pine Street, which replace a closed Red Apple supermarket and an empty parking lot, respectively; the 12th and Pike Lofts, which will restore a historic building and add 24 new housing units; and the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program building at Broadway and East Pine Street, which will replace a Texaco gas station with 44 low-income apartments.

But as developers run out of empty lots along Pike/Pine to develop, they’re starting to eye blocks where businesses already exist. The end result? The death of Pike/Pine as we know it.

Developers and real-estate agents love to talk about the “vibrancy” of neighborhoods like Pike/Pine. The website for the Braeburn describes the neighborhood as “vibrant and diverse.” An ad for the Brix, which is going up at the north end of Broadway, calls the area “the neighborhood that shows Seattle how to have fun.” Promotional materials for the Press Condos right across the street from the Weber + Thompson development that will displace the Cha Cha, the Bus Stop, and Manray show black-clad hipsters in ripped jeans sitting around in bohemian bars. Of 21 local businesses included on a map available on the Press website, half will soon be gone.
When developers talk about “vibrancy,” what they mean is places like the Cha Cha, Bimbo’s, Manray, the Bus Stop, R Place, Bauhaus, Babeland, and dozens of other small, independent businesses. Pike/Pine wouldn’t be “vibrant” without those businesses. Yet as empty lots get harder and harder to come by, developers are increasingly gobbling up land that’s already occupied—by the very businesses that make the area attractive for development in the first place. What goes up in their place is often chichi salons (like Swoon in the Braeburn), chain stores (like Kinko’s at the north end of Broadway), non-retail uses (like the builder and architect who fill two of three storefronts at the new-ish 615 East Pike lofts) and, frequently, empty storefronts.

It’s not that there isn’t room in a neighborhood for Walgreens and Kinko’s and pricey salons—all three are improvements on the empty lots they replaced. But when the Walgreens and empty storefronts and salons start displacing established local businesses, the character of the neighborhood—the hook used to draw high-end buyers into the area—is destroyed.

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he/she with the most money wins. if its so f-ing important, then people would rally and find enough money to buy the space. obv. the developers want it more. they paid for it. if it truly mattered, and it quite clearly doesn't matter, all those rich and famous people who soiled the cha cha and other so-called institutions, would pitch in to buy the property and keep it a haven for poser coke heads. do you think that will happen?

Posted by REALITY | December 1, 2006 11:46 AM

Call me a cynic, but I seriously wonder if this project will go through. If I'm not mistaken, they have another year (give or take a few months) before the businesses have to be out, and by that time we will have probably realizized that - as usual - we have overbuilt condos, and it won't be worth it to build these.

Granted, it's just delaying the execution for a few years, because real estate always bounces back here, but it will be interesting to see if this thing goes through.

For the record, I'm firmly on Erica's side in this arguement. I was one of of those homos who moved into the neighborhood in the Squid Row days, saw it grow into what it is, and loved living there. Unfortunately, my building, with it's good-sized apartments, swimming pool and REAL balconies, was demolished for a new attrocity with units that are half the size (and no pool).

So I bought a house. But not all people are as fortunate as I was in that situation.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | December 1, 2006 11:55 AM

The challenge to The Stranger, then, is to articulate the policy changes that will generate good density without generating bad density.

Do we need more small retail spaces? Should we downzone some commercial blocks to stay low-rise so they can have loud bars without whiny neighbors while upzoning more residential areas?

Posted by Steve | December 1, 2006 11:56 AM

I remember well what Pike-Pine was like before it was trendy. I remember how nifty it was when hipster businesses started showing up. But I thought the funniest part of your article was when you followed the description of how that change occurred, up to 1995, and then followed it with the "death knell", the QFC, also in 1995. Essentially, the equilibrium of hipsterness was momentary, and it started to decline even before it had finished getting completely groovy.

This sequence of events is not unique to Pike/Pine; it has been repeated hundreds of times across the country. It's one of the ways cities work. And the people to "blame" for this tragedy of life are the hipsters, not the developers. The hipsters made the real estate expensive.

If you want to worry about something that can actually be controlled, worry about the new proposal from these very same mixed-use developers to unmix: they've petitioned the city to ditch the rules that require street-level retail. They claim that this results in too many empty storefronts, which is like the phenomenon you noted, the boredom of salon / architect / real estate "shops".

Of course, there is another explanation for the underutilized space: the rents are too friggin' high. The city should mandate a retail square-foot rental rate in these new developments to be LOWER than the old buildings around them, thus forcing them to take on weirder and more interesting tenants.

Posted by Fnarf | December 1, 2006 12:03 PM

Hipsters make real estate expensive?!?

Posted by :: shawn :: | December 1, 2006 12:11 PM

The Weekly has a blog? Who cares?

Posted by HSS | December 1, 2006 12:14 PM

Seattlest says it best. Weekly, whatever.

Accusing the tone of the article of being a 180 is ridiculous. That said, this same exact thing affected the Olive Way corridor three years ago, and the only thing I remember being mentioned in the Stranger was in Kathleen Wilson's column, where she mentioned that Fallout Records somehow "deserved" to be closed, and that she could honestly find better music at Border's.

Obviously, different writers, different opinions, different times, etc. But don't be surprised if you get more of the "Ah, so NOW you're preparing the tombstone" comments when Capitol Hill has been going through this same exact thing for three years.

The Stranger and Pike/Pine just happen to be in the south-end of the grand scheme while in the midst of another Seattle mecca, now.

As for the snotty comments... well, when you use the phrase "The DEATH of Pike/Pine", that invites that kind of commentary, right? Does that mean that Olive Way "died" three years ago?

If so, say so.

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | December 1, 2006 12:17 PM

Why doesn't someone replace the parking garage at Harvard & Pine (across from Bill's & Linda's) with a more attractive & useful development (with underground parking)?

Posted by DOUG. | December 1, 2006 12:23 PM

Yes, hipsters make real estate expensive. More precisely, artists make real estate expensive. Artists have always sought out cheap places to live and turned them into ghettoes of fabulousness that then attract big, big dollars, because people with money want to live in vibrant places. Ever heard of Greenwich Village? This process is a hundred years old in America. In the Seattle version, the proximate sign that this is happening is hep coffeebars.

Posted by Fnarf | December 1, 2006 12:33 PM

At a minimum, developers should be required to offer small retail spaces. Smaller retail space == small indie businesses. Large retail space == dry cleaners.

Posted by keshmeshi | December 1, 2006 12:53 PM

It’s all about the land use code. If you want to keep stuff that’s there, and the code allows for greater use, you must get it downzoned. That’s a hard leap for philosophical supporters of density to make.

Opponents of density have it easier: they only need to oppose upzones to keep things the same.

Posted by N | December 1, 2006 12:55 PM

The detractors seem to think DENSITY=EXPENSIVE... as in "density requires new construction and new construction is expensive. Those costs have to be passed on to consumers. That is just how it is always done.". Merited or not, if that is the equation, then those who hold that view also hold the view that those who can't (or, what they must feel to be an almost traitorous betrayal of the American dream of home ownership) WON'T pay expensive costs do not have a place in a dense city.

Those folks never offer alternatives, but that is the fault of holding a conservative ideology. For them, a dense society is a society where everyone pays... not what they can afford, mind you, but they pay what everyone else is paying. The very idea that other people should "get away with" not paying what they are paying, is the very worst thing imaginable.

Posted by PHENICS | December 1, 2006 1:02 PM

NEW density IS always expensive. Tired old buildings are cheap; new buildings are expensive, even if they're crappy.

Posted by Fnarf | December 1, 2006 1:06 PM

It's really a double-edged sword, FNARF. Certainly, artists & hipsters migrating into depressed or low-rent neighborhoods DO act as a revitalizing catalyst, and yes it's been going on for a long time.

However, blaming them, I think is a bit strong in this context, since they're not directly responsible for their own displacement or for the increase in real-estate values that follow in their wake, which is really controlled by the developers who simply come along after the fact and take advantage of the ambience these artists and hipsters create, in order to use it as a lure or selling-point to the upwardly mobile, while at the same time effectively driving out the same elements responsible for creating said ambience in the first place.

The inevitable result is that the developers repackage the neighborhood by instilling an ersatz "artistic" ambience in the form of upscale watering holes and restaurants, chain clothing and furnishing stores, and boutique grocers, none of which of course have any relation to the original ambience that drew residents to the neighborhood in the first place.

But, of course, most of them wouldn't recognize artistic ambience outside of a Williams Sonoma catalogue anyway, so it's not like they're really going to miss the little corner gallery that only sold local works, or the tiny tavern where some rock star from their high school years once hung out before committing suicide or whatever.

Meanwhile, the real artists move on to another low-rent, under developed neighborhood and the process starts all over again.

Posted by COMTE | December 1, 2006 1:27 PM

Comte, I didn't BLAME the artists. But it is the artists who attract the hipsters, and the hipsters who raise the values. These evil developers wouldn't be coming in with their expensive condos if there wasn't a profit in it. The developers weren't there 20 years ago. The hipsters brought them.

It is a cycle, and it does go on. This is how cities work. If there are no more cheap, cruddy neighborhoods left in a city, the action will go elsewhere.

The problem is that the hipster paradigm is ripe for a change. Furniture and design have embraced retro-modernism, but the ideal for living spaces is still a pre-modern one of industrial lofts and so forth. Eventually the artists are going to figure out that that early-twentieth-century esthetic isn't available any more, and will move on to something as recent as lofts were in the sixties: strip malls, old supermarkets, dingbat apartments, that sort of thing.

Posted by Fnarf | December 1, 2006 3:19 PM

"As for the snotty comments... well, when you use the phrase "The DEATH of Pike/Pine", that invites that kind of commentary, right? Does that mean that Olive Way "died" three years ago?"


Man o man, you people need a gym membership or something. Always trying to fan these fires that don't exist. Get a life. You'll feel better

Posted by son of fnarf | December 1, 2006 4:09 PM

Okay, I guess your use of the word @4, while admittedly done in a quote/unquote context, did sort of make it sound that way.

And truly, the developers come in wherever, whenever, as you say, the conditions for profit are right, hipster presense or not.

And in this particular neighborhood, I think it's pretty clear the developers have been there for quite some time. The Centenial, for example, where I lived from '87 - '91 on the NE corner of Olive & Belmont was one of the hotel-cum-apartment buildings built during the '62 World's Fair (it's doppleganger on the SE corner was recently torn down for - another condo), while many of the surrounding apartment buildings are even older. The Parc condos on Summit, between Pine & Olive went up in two phases, starting around 1989; The Portofino, on the SW corner of Pine & Summit went up shortly thereafter, and there's been almost continuous development in the neighborhood since then.

So, really, this is all just another phase in a long, ongoing pattern of densification for this area, that really cannot completely attributed to hipsters being there. The neighborhood's proximity to downtown, on major east-west arterials, close to major retail centers and the Broadway shopping corridor would have made this area a no-brainer for development in any case.

Industrial lofts, so long as they remain abundant, will never go out of style for conversion into artists' residences, not because of their "retro-chic", but for the very practical reason that the high ceilings, large window templates, and expansive floorplans are ideal for providing the open space and natural lighting many artists require for executing their work. Granted, if the supply becomes scarce (or more accurately if the supply of super-cheap lofts becomes scarce), artists will be forced by necessity to find alternative spaces, but even the ones you suggest are being converted for multi-unit housing just as quickly as old industrial spaces, so it's going to become even more of a challenge to find ideal, inexpensive artists' housing.

Not that they won't of course; artists are fairly resourceful in that regard. But, they may have to go a little further out from the core to find the kinds of spaces they need.

Posted by COMTE | December 1, 2006 4:09 PM

Well, that's what I meant: out from the core. An old barrel-roof Safeway out in the sticks somewhere has all the natural light you could possibly want, with those floor-to-ceiling windows in front. But that doesn't match the paradigm as it has decended from Parisian garrets to Soho lofts. Priced a Soho loft lately?

The problem is, hipsters, who are not actually artists or creative, but wish to emulate those who are, have requirements that far-out areas can't meet -- like cool bars and coffeehouses that don't have boring old farts cluttering up all the stools. I mean, you're never going to find a Bimbo's in the cruddier parts of Auburn (to Auburn's credit). Artists don't care, but hipsters do; that's why artists lead the way. When the hipsters follow, they bring the coffeehouses with them, and the cycle starts again.

But if you're going to cry for the hipster joints, spare a tear or two for the places they replaced in their turn. Remember, none of these beloved joints were there 25 years ago. Did anyone here besides me mourn for Shamek's button shop, driven out by hipsterism after 100 years?

Posted by Fnarf | December 1, 2006 4:33 PM

But, of course it doesn't HAVE to be this way. NYC, which people keep touting as an example of long-term densification has plenty of OLD businesses mixed in with the housing development, which IS what keeps the neighborhoods vibrant, despite the influx of new residents.

Of course the developments surrounding these businesses are nearly as old themselves, so maybe that's what it takes: condos built to last, so that the retail anchors can have a chance to survive for just as long.

Posted by COMTE | December 1, 2006 4:54 PM

Erica, NIMBYism is simply people saying, "I don't want my neighborhood to change"

You can dress up your opposition all you want, but at the end of the day you are still saying, "not in my backyard"

All NIMBY's have some good points. You are no different or no more noble.

Posted by just sayin | December 1, 2006 5:41 PM

Comte: exactly. The buildings have to stick around long enough to become OLD buildings. That's the only thing "wrong" with these new ones; they're new. They're expensive, as are all new buildings. The retail spaces are poorly designed. Give 'em fifty years, when no one will give a shit what the retail level was built for, and they'll be able to make them fit.

Posted by Fnarf | December 1, 2006 5:53 PM

Yeah, Erica, it really sounds like your rationalizing your position...that block on Pine isn't as bad as a parking lot, of course, but there is no way you can convince me that a dense, urban city should have a row of single-story storefronts in its very core. I've felt that way ever since I moved here. There should be hundreds of folks living on that street, above those storefronts, and that will add tremendously to the street life and the urban feel of the neighborhood. And how can anything that gets rid of Man Ray be all bad? That has got to be one of the worst gay bars I've ever set foot in.

Posted by cite | December 1, 2006 6:31 PM

Well, they're new AND not terribly well built by most standards. The real question is whether any of them will last long enough to become "old".

Posted by COMTE | December 1, 2006 7:00 PM

Those people interviewed in Erica's story who are complaining about the proposed new development -- how its massive and out of scale with the neighborhood, etc. -- they remind me exactly of the people who were freaking out over the re-zoning of Broadway that allowed for taller buildings. And wasn't the Stranger in favor of that re-zone?

Posted by cite | December 1, 2006 10:21 PM

I second the comment of Steve @ 3. This whole pro vs anti density debate gets oversimplified. Just look at the comment above @ 24 completely ignoring both the article and Erica's reiteration of the main points of the article in this post.

Since the stranger does argue more on the pro-density side they need to be clear about the kinds of regulations they think will make density work - and they need to articulate what won't work.

How do you protect the well utilized spaces while expediting the redevelopment of parking lots and failing/abandoned buildings? How do you decide, and who decides what deserves protection from development and what doesn't? Studying the regulations in a city like New York may be good starting point. Investigating these kinds of questions would be a lot more interesting than the usual "density is great" and "my favorite neighborhood is being killed" pieces. I hate articles that bemoan changes that are made out to seem inevitable.

Posted by Lanik | December 2, 2006 11:01 AM

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