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Monday, October 1, 2007

South Lake Union

posted by on October 1 at 16:00 PM

We were warned that building the Commons—a huge park in South Lake Union—would lead to developers running riot through the neighborhood, throwing up pricey condos, pushing out low-income residents, and threatening the social services and small businesses located in the area. Most of the small businesses that were “saved” by the anti-Commons crowd are long gone. But, hey, we didn’t build that park, so at least the neighborhood saved from developers and their pricey condos and—wait, what’s that you say, Seattle PI?

The gourmet coffee house and the boutique pet-supply shop have sprung up for people moving into the new condominiums and upscale apartment buildings in the South Lake Union area.

But at least for a few more months, there’s still one place for lower-income people who still live in the neighborhood.

After learning last week that city funding for the Cascade People’s Center is not being renewed, program director Myla Becker said the center will have to shut down at the end of the year.

For those keeping score: We didn’t build a park in South Lake Union—a once in a city’s lifetime opportunity—and the condos came anyway, developers profited anyway, small businesses were pushed out anyway, and social services were pushed out anyway. And there’s no public space, no park, nothin’.

Post # 45,609 in my “Still Bitter About the Commons” series.

RSS icon Comments


Whaddya mean, you got a cool streetcar with a naughty name!

Posted by Westside forever | October 1, 2007 4:17 PM

Meanwhile, the only thing that makes sense is 100-story inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings surrounded by green space.

But your "betters" don't want you to have them. Then they might have to put up with poor people in their playgrounds.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 1, 2007 4:22 PM

Mea Culpa.

I was so wrong, and I realized it within months after the vote.

Posted by mirror | October 1, 2007 4:23 PM

HA! I voted for the Commons. I thought it was the least we could do to alleviate the inevitable Vancouverization of Seattle.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | October 1, 2007 4:24 PM

You make it sound like that's a bad thing. I for one welcome the Vancouverization of Seattle.

Seattle: a city-wannabe.

Posted by A | October 1, 2007 4:28 PM

I voted for it, too. At the time I thought: This Denny Park ain't cutting it.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | October 1, 2007 4:29 PM

Savage, I think its time for a SLUT ride!!!! C'mon...a ride on SLUT will make you feels SO good!!!

Posted by nipper | October 1, 2007 4:32 PM

And, for the 45,700th time, you might also recall that Commons supporters said ad nauseum that if we didn't pay for Paul Allen's $400 million playground no one would ever develop anything new in SLU. OTOH, Commons opponents mostly said that new development was inevitable, and that massive public subsidies wouldn't be required for it to happen (but, yes, Commons skeptics did object to misdirecting every available dollar from every available source of public funds to subsidize upper-income residential development).

Revisionist history, Savage-style....

Posted by Mr. X | October 1, 2007 4:39 PM

On the plus side the boutique pet-supply shop is actually pretty nice.

Posted by The Baron | October 1, 2007 4:39 PM

And City Hardware is badass

Nice to not have to go to Home Depot/Eagle/Fred Meyer

Posted by jseattle | October 1, 2007 4:48 PM

It was just bad timing. Hold the same vote today, with the same circumstances in place, and it would easily pass. The "old Seattle" crowd was larger and more influential then, and one of their guiding principles was (and remains) "never trust a rich guy." There's new blood in this city now, and the newcombers don't have that let's-keep-Seattle-a-shitty-backwater-forever mentality.

But in 1996, Allen--and the rest of us--never had a chance.

Posted by Matthew | October 1, 2007 4:53 PM


Posted by Boomer in NYC | October 1, 2007 5:05 PM

Meanwhile, the only thing that makes sense is 100-story inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings surrounded by green space.

Can you name one 100 story inexpensive rental apartment building in the USA? In the world?

Posted by JMR | October 1, 2007 5:05 PM

I give Snowboard Connection 12 months in its current location.

Posted by DOUG. | October 1, 2007 5:06 PM

But at least you can still peek at the Space Needle through the 'pee-o-scope' in the Five Point men's room. You can't put a price tag on an experience like that.

Posted by Explorer | October 1, 2007 5:06 PM

Bad Timing? I think we voted it down a few times. Seattle never seems to grasp the future... and when we do see the future, we vote for the progressive nature three or four times only to vote against it at a later date.

Would Seattle be better off with the Common's Park? Absolutely. Is what appears to be going down there as good or better? I think so... Has anyone been to that building across the street from Whole Foods? It's the coolest builing in Seattle!

The building has everything that SLU will be. Yes, there are luxury high rises, but they also show other things such as low income apartments, retirement homes, and REI!

It's not the commons, but I think it is a close second.

Posted by Jason H. | October 1, 2007 5:07 PM

Hey Mr. X @8: I believe you are full of shit.

Evidence, sample 1: "$400 million playground"
Beyond the stupidity of inferring that this is one man's personal backyard, which is, in fact, really stupid (and indicative of the previously mentioned "never trust a rich guy" old Seattle douchebag mentality), the $400 million figure is just wrong. According to the Municipal League website, the plan called for $166 million, to be raised via the following:

* $50 million from raised property taxes (about $282 total over 5 years on a $250K home)

* $23 million in bonds, repaid out of the city fund

* $70 million from Allen's bank account

* $1.5 to $3.8 million in taxes from a newly-formed "Local Improvement District"

Subtracting Allen's chunk, the public was being asked to pitch in less than $100 million. For that, we would have gotten:

* A totally badass 42-acre park, $15.3 million for new boulevards, etc, and $28.1 million for new publicly-funded housing.

Evidence, sample 2: "...every available dollar from every available source of public funds..."

As you can see from the above, the public investment here comes nowhere close to matching that.

Do you enjoy making patently, proveably incorrect statements? Or are you just a big, fat liar?

Posted by Matthew | October 1, 2007 5:13 PM

Social services got pushed out because there are no more poor people with social needs left in SLU. It's a success story!

Posted by Ronald | October 1, 2007 5:13 PM

Mr X:
I think you must be my antimatter twin. You literally hold the opposite opinion from me on every issue you address.

Posted by Patrick | October 1, 2007 5:16 PM

@13 - not in the USA. But just a few hours north of here in Vancouver BC.

I used to live in them.

Been there for decades.


Posted by Will in Seattle | October 1, 2007 5:25 PM

If only this had passed back in 1912. South lake union would have been a much different place.

“He submitted his proposal on August 24, 1911 -- it described an ambitious set of improvements including a giant train station on the south shore of Lake Union, a Civic Center complex of government buildings in the recently leveled Denny Regrade, a rail transit line linking Seattle and Kirkland via a tunnel beneath Lake Washington, and possible acquisition of Mercer Island as a city park.”

Posted by db | October 1, 2007 5:27 PM

Vancouver has Stanley Park. Second, Vancouver has the 2010 Winter Olympics. Third, people publish books about the Vancouver skyline. I'm not sure how it will be viewed in 30 years, but at least it's interesting. Anyone who relishes the lack of Vancouverization is part of the drag on this city rising above cow town status.

Posted by left coast | October 1, 2007 5:29 PM

Can you name one 100 story inexpensive rental apartment building in the USA? In the world?

@13 - not in the USA. But just a few hours north of here in Vancouver BC. I used to live in them. Been there for decades. N00b.

You must count stories in metric.

Posted by JMR | October 1, 2007 5:31 PM

Hear hear, Dan! Turning down the Commons was a massively shortsighted blunder on the voter's part.

Posted by laterite | October 1, 2007 5:31 PM

Vancouver has Stanley Park. Second, Vancouver has the 2010 Winter Olympics. Third, people publish books about the Vancouver skyline.

If the goal is to have a city that is visually interesting - people coming to town (for instance, sports announcers) routinely say Seattle is the most beautiful city in the country. It doesn't seem we need to do much work in that regard.

As far as the Olympics, big deal? If a shithole like Atlanta can get an Olympics, anybody can. It's no badge of honor.

Posted by JMR | October 1, 2007 5:48 PM

If it had been built, I probably would have visited the Commons once, and never went back.

The marginal utility lost honestly doesn't seem that great. SLU is lost to the big wigs anyway.

Posted by Gomez | October 1, 2007 5:52 PM

@23 -- touché.

And Mr. X accusing Dan of revisionist history is laughable. I wasn't a terribly strong supporter of the Commons, but I opposed the opponents. Precisely because without the Commons it was evident that the Cascade area was going to undergo hyper-development.

As a former employee of one of the last social service nonprofits that worked in that neighborhood (evicted last fall), I'm still pissed at the anti-commoners.

Posted by gnossos | October 1, 2007 5:55 PM

Matthew @ 17-

Allen's contribution was going to be $20 million in donated property - not $70 million. About $95 million in additional federal funds not cited in the Muni League figures were proposed to be used for a lid over Mercer Street (competing with other projects for the same funds, and the Mercer component would likely have absorbed state transportation funds that would have been better spent elsewhere, as well). There were also tens of millions of dollars in transportation funds that would have been necessary to replace Westlake Ave with substantial work on 9th and Terry Avenues, as well. Other low-income housing funds to the tune of $40-50 million not included in the article you cite were also going to be diverted to SLU, though I'm at work and don't have the specific documents at hand to fully flesh out the costs not included in the Muni League report you cite.

The proposed Commons was identified in the City of Seattle's 1995 six-year spending plan as a $414 million project - before the inevitable cost overruns - and the vast majority of it was to be publicly funded (and please note - saying that $70 million is going to come from private sources is a far thing from having the cash in hand).

If the Seattle Times and PI archives were readily available online for 1995/1996, you'd be able to easily see that the figures I cite were widely accepted in the mainstream media coverage at the time.

There's a reason opponents won two elections (or, actually, more like $400 million of them).

And Patrick, I'm here to cite the contrary opinions - I could easily post "me too's" about a lot (if not most) of the topics covered on Slog, but that would be dull, wouldn't it?

Posted by Mr. X | October 1, 2007 6:02 PM

After having taken a spin thru Cal Anderson Park, does anyone seriously question how badly we need more urban park space? Well, keep up the good work, Seattle, and carry on the tradition of voting down parks and transit. After all, if the plan under consideration is flawed, surely a better and cheaper alternative (the one the big wigs were sitting on all along) will surface in the near future.

Posted by kk | October 1, 2007 6:12 PM

Ah, hindsight. If it hadn't been on the ballot alongside the plan to subsidize the Mariners ballpark (also rejected)...if supporters had done less scoffing at and more courting of yokels in outlying zips who doubted biotech and highrises, or if supporters could've gotten more voters to believe the city could keep it safer than other new parks like Freeway Park or 3rd & Bell...well, then, maybe.

Posted by tomasyalba | October 1, 2007 6:14 PM

The whole Commons project was terribly mismanaged. While it was being planned, in the mid-1990's, the parks community was developing a citywide Pro-Parks ballot measure, to improve parks all over the city. Had the Commons folks folded into that effort, and made the Commons the downtown component of Pro-Parks, it would have been approved when the ballot measure went to the voters in 2000.

Commons folks were approached about that strategy, but they knew better, they couldn't be bothered with a "not invented here" idea.

The problem with their go it alone strategy is that voters from neighborhoods distant from downtown (a rather large majority) were simply not going to vote for what they viewed as an expensive park for a single neighborhood -- downtown.

Posted by Frequent Voter | October 1, 2007 6:16 PM

The same P-I article quoted a city official claiming that "development was not a factor" when the city decided to de-fund the Cascade People's Center. My ass it wasn't. The city has been doing all they can to rid the area of low-income people. How dumb do they think we are?

Apparently 9 groups applied for funding. The Cascade Center, funded in three previous rounds, was no longer considered a priority. 7 of the 9 groups were funded. This was a shitty decision and I hope they find some way to correct it.

Posted by Gurldoggie | October 1, 2007 6:17 PM

Hmmm Mathew attacking Mr. X very interesting.

Well you Commons supporters have convinced me, let's all get out of this bullshit, stupid city. I mean they've been doing 180 wrong since the beginning - Skid Road what were they thinking didn't they know it would be the name of the worst part of town across the country? This place what have they ever done right? No music, no nothing. Let's leave I'll meet you guys - Portland Yes they know how to do it; Milwaukee You Bet they took down a viaduct; Austin Hey Food in Trucks; Vancouver North Now they have 200 story low cost housing.

As soon as you get where you're going let us know through a post, see ya.

Posted by whatever | October 1, 2007 6:25 PM

Well you Commons supporters have convinced me, let's all get out of this bullshit, stupid city. I mean they've been doing 180 wrong since the beginning - Skid Road what were they thinking didn't they know it would be the name of the worst part of town across the country?

The Mercer Maids have spent the last 140 years regretting that they ever came here.

Posted by JMR | October 1, 2007 6:40 PM

let's get this straight. don't oppose corporate welfare at the polls, because politicians will just give away the store in the end anyway? any other taxpayer subsidies for private enterprise you'd like us to invest in while you're at it, in exchange for some open space?

Posted by huh? | October 1, 2007 7:22 PM

1. No commons.

No great public space at all. No great plaza, no central park.

2. no monorail & light rail is built on the street on MLK. Stupid, stupid.

4. the viaduct -- leaders like Godden and the mayor propose a $4 B tunnel it is rejected yet we will re-elect them anyway. Rasmussen refused to disclose how he was going to vote.
This is our leadership and this is how we just acceptit.

5. roads n transit -- leader Sims says vote no. Wow, he is lauded for his rave conscience. Where was he with his doubts and questions the last four years? And WTF is his plan now?

We will re-elect him anyway.

6. council passes a nightclub license law that says let's study it for one year then vote again. No balls to say "no."

7. "Leader" Burgess says he won't tell us who he voted for for president.

We will probably elect him anyway.

How much evidence do we need to conclude the obvious -- we in Seattle are just lame.

Posted by We all suck | October 1, 2007 9:11 PM

How much evidence do we need to conclude the obvious -- we in Seattle are just lame.

I think if you add a point #3, that will be the last bit of evidence we need.

Posted by JMR | October 1, 2007 10:05 PM

The logic employed here by Mr. Savage--don't resist development schemes for rich MS billionaires, because it will just be worse if you do. Not surprising, from a publication whose top two editors supported the "war on terrorism".

Posted by t.p.n. | October 1, 2007 11:14 PM

@29: "Well, keep up the good work, Seattle, and carry on the tradition of voting down parks and transit."

Voting down parks? The mayor's the one who doesn't give a crap about providing parks according to the Comp Plan. Voters approve parks levies all the time.

Proposed tax-increment financing for the Commons (banned by voters statewide, twice) was another sticking point.

Posted by tell me another one | October 1, 2007 11:40 PM

Will wrote "Meanwhile, the only thing that makes sense is 100-story inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings surrounded by green space."

Have you read Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"?

Posted by greg | October 1, 2007 11:43 PM

No, thank god.

Posted by Will in Fremont | October 2, 2007 1:30 AM

Holy shit and a fuck fuck fuck!! I am sick and tired of people only worrying about low income housing and high priced condos. I am all for low income housing and we all know we need more of it. How about housing for MIDDLE INCOME PEOPLE???!!!! I am sick to death of only being able to live in Seattle if you are poor or rich with no middle income housing options. THAT is what has pissed me off about SLU, the total lack of diversity in housing options. And the Commons would have been really cool.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | October 2, 2007 4:53 AM

The Commons would have been a golf course without holes; a mini-Stanley Park without natural features or trees. Seattle voters wisely defeated this developer subsidy twice and the development we were told the city so desperately needed in South Lake Union seems to have happened without it.

Posted by J.R. | October 2, 2007 8:34 AM

Credibility, that's the thing Dan: The Stranger was wrong on the Commons, the war and - third time's the charm - the monorail. As before, you got your facts wrong on the Commons. The ongoing development would have occurred even with a park - the reason a majority twice voted not to build a(another) public space for a billionaire. And of course South Lake Union Park is in fact was and still is being expanded - Allen kicked in $10 million himself. As for the community center, why isn't your paper doing any original reporting on it if it matters, rather than offeirng up a bit of blog lip service?

Posted by bud r | October 2, 2007 8:35 AM

So, what do you want?

We're dysfunctional.
That's why most of us live here.

You ignore my shortcomings and I ignore yours.
It makes for a civil society and piss poor government.

We are as easily led as a roomful of cats.

Get over it. Seattle has always been this way.

Posted by old timer | October 2, 2007 8:44 AM

Co-Op City in The Bronx. There are 35 buildings that range in height from 24 floors to 33 floors.

Posted by Jessica | October 2, 2007 10:56 AM


Ummmmm....they were first. Way back in September. Hopefully they will follow up.

Posted by Doug | October 2, 2007 11:21 AM

Will in Seattle @2 (and in about a billion other posts in Slog)

Meanwhile, the only thing that makes sense is 100-story inexpensive residential rental apartment buildings surrounded by green space.

So you haven't read Death and Life of Great American Cities (and seem to be rather proud of your ignorance) given that it's a fairly short book you probably haven't read Robert Caro's The Power Broker which is much longer and which would really make your tiny little brain hurt.

If you want to see huge massive apartment buildings to to East Berlin. You can see what they call Honeckerhause there. 20 story tall apartment buildings that are almost a thousand feet long and uglier than shit. Newsflash Will: massive housing projects like you're advocating have been tried, and you know what Will, they've all sucked ass. Sure they made "sense" to some people, just like starting a war in Iraq and planning to bomb Iran makes "sense" to Dick Cheney, if you get my drift.

Posted by wile_e_quixote | October 2, 2007 11:31 AM

On the whole 100-story apartment building thing, I would add that the soon-to-be tallest building in Vancouver BC will be completed in 2008 - and will measure 61 stories. Not chicken feed, but nowhere near 100 stories, either.

Just to pile on here, most modern residential high-rises are primarily luxury dwellings - though BC does have the power to force developers to incorporate a certain number of lower-income units. Try pulling that off in the good old property-rights happy US of A, let alone Washington State.

New mantra, please....

Posted by Mr. X | October 2, 2007 11:50 AM

#48 FYI - Since you're interested in urban planning... do not miss this one too:

Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York (Hardcover)
by Hilary Ballon (Editor), Kenneth T. Jackson (Editor) 2007

They're trying to resurrect Moses' legacy from Caro's deadly hit.

Very interesting! It updates the evolving views of urban planning and despotic bureaucrats.


Posted by macaca | October 2, 2007 12:33 PM

I tried to order from Kapowl Coffee and It was complicated and confusing. So I saw a blog that said has them in stock ready to ship. I used a coupon code "jamie" and got 20% off plus free shipping. The shirt came in 3 days plus I got to pick the shirt color and type.

Posted by pat migroin | October 3, 2007 7:27 PM

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