Proposed development poised to transform Central District

Seattle's downtown Goodwill store has been at its current location at Dearborn Street and Rainier Avenue South since 1923, and has no plans of moving. While their current building has a leaking roof and unstable foundation, Goodwill has found a way to leverage their assets to build a new facility.

Goodwill has made an agreement with local developer Darrell Vange to exchange their property, valued at more-than $20 million, for a new retail store, administrative offices, and classroom space. Vange, of Ravenhurst Development (a local partner of TRF Pacific) has much bigger plans for the 8- acre site. Goodwill's new facility will operate on less-than one-fifth of the 700,000-square-foot "Dearborn Street" development; the rest of the property will house a big-box business (such as Lowes or Target), medium-size vendors, 500 mixed-income housing units, and 2,300 underground parking stalls.

Any residential or commercial development at Dearborn Street and Rainier Avenue requires an amendment to Seattle's Comprehensive Plan. The current Goodwill site is zoned for industrial use. The city council's urban planning and development committee held a public hearing on November 28 to listen to community concerns about the rezoning of the property.

Residents, businesses concerned

Community members, businesses, unions, and non-profits have organized themselves into a coalition to demand a community benefits agreement (or CBA) from the developer. Called the Dearborn Street Coalition for a Livable Neighborhood, it is made-up of 17 members, including the Jackson Place Community Coalition, the Vietnamese Economic Development Association, InterIm, Church Council of Greater Seattle, and Beacon Alliance of Neighbors.

DSCLN wants the city council to postpone amending the comprehensive plan until they have created a CBA. While many of the members of the coalition are pro-development on some level, they are concerned with the impact a commercial development will have on the businesses of neighboring Little Saigon and Chinatown. Quang Nguyen, of the Vietnamese Economic Development Association, and co-chair of DSCLN, spoke to this at the public hearing.

"Growth and development can be good for this area, but not when it causes displacement of family-owned businesses and working-class residents due to being priced out of the market," said Nguyen. "Growth and development ought to be beneficial to these groups of people as well."

Coalition members stated they want to ensure that Dearborn Street includes affordable housing, minority and women-owned businesses, green construction practices, and traffic alleviation. But they are also worried that the new mall will not reflect the unique faces of the surrounding neighborhoods of Jackson Place, the International District, Beacon Hill, and Rainier Valley.

"The character of it [Dearborn Street] reads 'suburban shopping mall,'" said Bill Bradburd, co-chair of DSCLN. Bradburd said that current residents in the surrounding neighborhoods want shopping with character.

Others are worried about current residents and businesses getting priced-out of the market. Bob Santos, a long-time community activist and former director of InterIm, supports the creation of a CBA. He wants to ensure that the International District and South Downtown have affordable housing.

"The developer is going to say, 'we'll develop housing if it pencils out,' Santos told the council committee at the hearing. "I am here to offer InterIm, and we always make it pencil out."

A young woman who called herself Yiko, is a youth worker with the International District Housing Alliance, told the committee she was worried about the impact Dearborn Street will have on the International District's elderly population.

"Our elders might not be able be able to get their traditional foods, groceries, or other foods that they are used to or that they need," Yiko said. "The International District is our community, and if anyone is building in our neighborhood, they have to recognize these residents' rights."

State Senator Adam Kline (D-37th District) also spoke in favor of a CBA at the hearing.

For Kline, a CBA is a way for community members "To turn something that might have been plopped down into their neighborhood into something that is actually shaped by them, something that they can take ownership of."

He told the council members that CBAs are "a growing force in American cities. I think that it is going to be very successful."

If Seattle agrees to write an enforceable CBA, it will be the city's first time doing so.

Southside Northgate?

Vange said that he is working closely with the community to listen to their visions for their neighborhoods. He thinks that big-box businesses will meet the needs of people in South Seattle who may now have to drive north to Northgate Mall to shop.

"This is essentially a private development," Vange reminded community members. "The community members you are listening to act like it came up suddenly, but, in fact, I have been talking with them for one year and a half."

Bill Bradburd, co-chair of DSCLN, and Jackson Place resident disagrees. His family does most of their shopping in surrounding neighborhoods, and he sees little need for stores like Target or restaurants like Country Kitchen. He said that the developer is not truly listening to the coalition.

"He portrays himself as working with the community, but just because he does his dog-and-pony show doesn't mean he is changing his plans," said Bradburd. "If you put a bow on a pig, it is still a pig."

The urban planning and development committee's vote on the matter is scheduled for December 7. The Dearborn Street Coalition for a Livable Neighborhood, Ravenhurst Development Inc., and Goodwill must wait until then to see if the city will amend their comprehensive plan. Even if the decision to rezone is made, Dearborn Street shopping and housing will not open until 2010.

Goodwill is excited for the development to begin.

"We're hopeful that this can all get worked through," Ken Colling, Goodwill's executive director, said. "We want to have facilities where clients have a respectable place to shop. The new facility will help us be more competitive."

South End writer Kelsey Jones-Casey may be reached by calling 461-1311 or e-mailing[[In-content Ad]]