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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Meanwhile, In Columbia City…

posted by on September 24 at 16:56 PM

The tragically misnamed Columbia Plaza—an ugly parking lot with a small indoor mall of shops at its western end—will soon be morphing from this…


to this:


The renderings I’ve seen so far don’t include a full front view (i.e., what things will look like from where I was when I took that first shot of Columbia Plaza), but here’s one that includes the ugly-ass Bank of America drive-through building in the front (which, unfortunately, was not sold as part of the development):


There’s a lot I like about this project. Foremost: It will replace one of the worst-used lots in Columbia City—a lot that effectively walls off downtown Columbia City from the Columbia City Park and the renovated Columbia City branch library—with a development that will extend the downtown area to its logical terminus at Alaska Street. All that dead space will be gone (and RIP, Columbia Plaza, but there are plenty of places that sell wares similar to yours right down the street), replaced by retail and (God willing) restaurants, which the growing neighborhood desperately needs. Second: I really dig that the parking is all underground. Granted, that’s kind of a given on a small lot in a dense area, but—if the renderings can be trusted—the parking will be practically invisible. That’s good planning—especially for a building on the street (Edmunds) that Sound Transit’s planning to turn into a pedestrian link to the light rail line a few blocks west on MLK. Third, while I don’t know how much these will sell for, I like that the units are small—between about 500 and 800 square feet, which will (I hope) translate into lower prices than some of the large, two-story luxury lofts that have been going up around the neighborhood. ($725,000-per-unit converted apartment building, I’m looking at you). Finally, if the developers do actually put in a green wall facing the Bank of America, it’ll be an awesome visual fuck-you to a squat gray relic on an increasingly pedestrian-oriented street, making it look more than ever like the out-of-place car-centric anachronism it is.

Now, a few cautionary thoughts: It would be nice if the open space weren’t clustered in the center, where only residents of the building can really access it. Why not next to the park instead? And these drawings show a muted, conservative palette—but will the developer stick to it, or fall prey to the still-trendy “throw a few buckets of primary colors on it and call that massing” school of design? Finally, if there is a “road diet” on Rainier, narrowing the highway-like road from five lanes to four or less, will the developers do something to plan for that? Right now, the side that faces Rainier looks pretty monolithic. That won’t work very well if and when Rainier is narrowed to be more user-friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.

RSS icon Comments


Where's the dice game moving?

Posted by Ashy Larry | September 24, 2008 5:09 PM

Erica Dear, do you ever get out to Columbia City? There's quite a few restaurants there. It's always nice to have more, of course, but you make it sound like all there is is a Burger King.

I do agree that this will be a good project for the neighborhood. I'm quite enthused.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | September 24, 2008 5:12 PM

Open space only accessible to the residents is more defensible space. It's a big middle finger to Le Corbusier.

Posted by Greg | September 24, 2008 5:12 PM

What's gonna happen to the Chinese subwoofer shop in the Columbia Plaza?

Posted by wha? | September 24, 2008 5:15 PM

re: ugly-ass Bank of America "unfortunately" not sold as part of the development...when working w/in the design-only playground of your mind please don't forget that some of the butt-ass ugly buildings serve a function that's needed in a neighborhood. You sound kind of insensitive to the long history of low income neighborhoods not having banks and fighting for them when you focus so much on how the building looks and suggest that because of design the function should be eliminated.

Posted by function&form | September 24, 2008 5:17 PM

what will happen to the farmers market?

Posted by Boyd main | September 24, 2008 5:24 PM

Very good point @5. I was thinking the same thing. Also, let's not forget that "ugly-ass Bank of America" was originally an "ugly-ass" Seafirst building, meaning it was borne of a strong local banking institution. Of course they ultimately gave in to the BofA monster, but it still means something to long-time residents. Besides, and I guess I'm the only one who has this sentiment, I kinda like the mid-60s Seafirst/BofA buildings, like this one and the one down Madison from Chop Suey. They're charming in their homeliness.

Posted by laterite | September 24, 2008 5:36 PM

I took out a $100 from that bank to loan a "friend." Never saw that again....

Posted by Scottie Yahtzee | September 24, 2008 5:41 PM

One comment in this post struck out about how great it was that the development included all underground parking.

Why does this city let any development have surface parking in the 21st century? Anybody in retail in an urban area should be trained to see parking lots as unused shelf space priced out at the same square footage as the building and unprofitable.

Big box and groceries still want surface parking, but they need their addictions tamed to reality.

The only other time surface parking seems to show up is when a developer, not the eventual end-user, does the design. Because it's cheaper for the developer even if unwanted by the end-user. That is a perfect reason for city design regulations to step in and say "no."

Surface parking is a blight.

Posted by StC | September 24, 2008 5:45 PM

yeah, surface parking is a blight. Make units have one space or less or provide 1/3 of units with spaces and charge the occupiers of those spaces the extra amount it costs to create them,

Posted by matt daves | September 24, 2008 5:57 PM

I'm sure the Columbia City Farmer's Market will be just as successful and vibrant in an underground parking garage.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | September 24, 2008 6:04 PM

"I'm sure the Columbia City Farmer's Market will be just as successful and vibrant in an underground parking garage."

What?!?!? Are you suggesting that cars should be relocated to accommodate some hippy love-in?

Are you a Communist?

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | September 24, 2008 6:34 PM

Columbia City yups are shaking in their crocs over the loss of the farmers market's space.

Posted by Brian | September 24, 2008 9:49 PM

I've heard the city's going to shut down Edmunds St on market days.

Posted by Martin H. Duke | September 24, 2008 10:40 PM

Wouldn't a single 40-100 story building cause a lot less destruction and noise than 10 4-10 story buildings?

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 24, 2008 11:37 PM

I think that Bank of America is nice, actually, it's a good example of well-preserved SeaFirst vernacular style. It will blend in well with the angular nature of this new development as well.

Posted by Matthew Rutledge | September 25, 2008 6:25 AM

wouldn't a single 400-1000 story building cause a lot less destruction and noise than 10 40-100 story buildings?

Posted by jrrrl | September 25, 2008 7:57 AM

goody! Replacing an ugly-ass, low density building with a slightly less ugly-ass mid-density building!

Progress is cool!

Posted by michael strangeways | September 25, 2008 9:05 AM

Where's the taco truck gonna sit?

Posted by dan | September 25, 2008 9:18 AM

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