Friday, June 29, 2007
Last Wednesday I attended a meeting of SLUFAN. I wanted to see who the people were that "represent" SLU to the City.
Not exactly sure who is behind this group but they "represent the people" or somesuch in the creation of the new SLU. For those who do not know what this means, Vulcan, the investment firm for Paul Allen, owns most of the real estate between Westlake Mall and Lake Union. And Vulcan plans to make a lot of money, a lot of money. The UW has a new campus here and I work in that campus.
FWIW SLUFAN stands for " South Lake Union Friends and Neighbors" but the reality is that SLU is mostly warehouses, a few shops, a nascent UW medical campus and a couple of companies. Alan bought the land and is building a city .. a city of some 100,000 souls according to numbers hizzoner the mayor touts. So it is pretty hard to imagine a collection of friends and neighbors that is meaningful.
Anyhow, I want to see SLU succeed. 100,000 is a LARGE portion of the city! I work there. Oh, and by the way, my tax dollars are subsidizing this construction. The cost estimates I get from knowledgeable folk is that SLU will never bring in enough taxes to support the investment the City is making.
So I figure I have good reason to seek answers to two questions:
What kind of city will the retired Microsoft Billionaire build using SeattleJew's money?
How will the SLU neighborhood affect the rest of Seattle?
I am NOT copacetic. So far the buildings have all the charm of Legoland. Less, really, as the only thing homogeneous is that the buildings seem made of instant kit materials. I am especially not fond of the wide spread use of corrugated metal. I am not sure my spell checker can spell "temporary."
The quality might be less important of there was more evidence of social engineering. There do not appear to be plans for such local magnets as a library or sculptures or art street or ... (to be fair, the SLU rolls down to Mercer and on the other side of Mercer there is small lake side park. Crossing Mercer is an adventure!
At the meeting there was wistful discussion of the unlikely possibility that Vulcan might build some housing for artistes or crafts people. Everyone agreed this wold be nice but I think at my age I can recognize the old wink and nahhh!! strategy.
One idea I have thought some on is the possibility of SLU attracting a particular type of folks .. say scientists? Sadly this seems unlikely too. Most of the housing will be rather expensive and none of it is being designed to attract the literati. T he most that Vulcan seems to be able to imagine is compliance with the City's rules about having some middle income housing. Plans for the necessary amenities to attract families do not exist though there is some vague idea that a city of 100,000 will need as school or two. As for art galleries, bookshops, ... well there are coffee shops already!
This is sad because a LOT more could be done. Theoretically the SLU project is being built around a biotech park. Unfortunately there is no evidence of effort to get some of the denizens of this zoo to make their homes near by. The "vision" of Vulcan may be best summed up by its demand that the city build a trolley train to downtown. Why? I suspect this is to attract high rollers who will buy condoes and take the tram into the theater at night. Not really conducive to biotech types who work long days and grab meals at a canteen or a bar. There is a suggestion that someone will someday extend the choo choo to the UW and maybe even Fremont. We will see, bye and bye.
So there is a citizen's board, it is called SLUFAN and this was SLUFAN's meeting. SLUFAN seems like reasonable folk. The chair is Steven Paget an architect with a local firm. He seemed to me to be a bit awkward in the role of representing the people of a neighborhood that does not yet have folks. Steve recently succeeded Robert Grossman , a PEMCO executive who described himself as a career corporate community relations type for PEMCO .. a local insurance company. Bob is the balding guy to the left. A third guy is described below. Together these three appear to be acting as an executive committee for a large group listed here.
What disturbs me is the lack of small business people, workers, or potential SLUite residents on the board. SLUFAN's leadership seems to consist of the contractors and investors plus representative of the Hutch,two private schools, and the Wooden Boat Center. Unless I miss my guess none of the small businesses in the neighborhood are represented. As for potential residents as opposed to a landlord or two, how can the no-yet-there be represented here-and-now?
Besides the existing chair and his predecessor, here is the list from the SLUFAN website:
Phil is the community relations manager for Vulcan Inc.
Seattle District Manager for the Associated General Contractors of Washington.
Suzie is an educational administrator at Spruce Street School, a local private elementary I think.
Director of External Affairs for the Seattle Times Company.
Director of Marketing for Mirabella, a Continuing Care Retirement Community and future home to 500 seniors in South Lake Union.
Director of Development and Admissions for Morningside Academy, a non-profit school dedicated to students having average or above average intelligence in grades 1—9.
Community Relations Manager at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Executive Vice President for Business Development and Administration at Sellen Construction Company, he largest locally owned general contractor in the Puget Sound region. Scott's step-grandfather, John H. Sellen founded the company.
Founding Director of The Center for Wooden Boats, a hands-on maritime museum.
The third board member present, probably the token representative of the residents. was the most quiet, his name is (I think) Lloyd Douglas. "Lloyd " represents the Cascade Community. My guess is that the community is a rearguard, slowly evaporating till its a remnant that will not be able to afford the new Vulcan and SLU. Mr. Douglas seemed depressed.
What I was left with was a disturbing feeling that this is all frosting. There seems to be very little urban planning here, little effort to create the sort of magnets that make other parts of Seattle each unique.
The sad thing is that Paul Allan does seem to want a legacy. A colleague of mine recently met with Mr. Allan on a very different issue and Allan, I am told, emphasized his need to make a mark.
What greater legacy could there be the building a great neighborhood? Unless Alan and the City want SLU to turn into a central city version of Levittown, there is a dire need for leadership. At the least, it seems to me, that the City, in return for the infrastructure investment coming from MY taxes, get Mr. Alan to put some $$ into the neighborhood to build off of the biotech promise.
A few such thoughts:
a. The Trolley. As a new denizen of the SLU, I am insulted by Vulcan's push for the Trolley. The company and the city seem utterly ignorant of how Biotech is done. We are less likely to go downtown for lunch than most of are to take our bikes over the Fremont bridge.
A wondeful idea would be a circum Lake Union trolley car system to unite the UW, Hutch, and biotech near Fremont.
The city planners tell me this is in the plan. I will believe that when I ride the trolley. In the mean time it is a 1/2 hr ride from SLU to theUW. What effect does thnis have on attracting Biotech?
A similar issue exiusts for the AMGEN campus. there is no feasible transit between AMGEN and SLU.
b. Shoppimg streets are the major differences between urban villages and suburban housing projects. Folks in Bellvue live in great tracts of homes connected by roads to a few gathering places. This model can not work in a city. Dense housing requires dense commercial activity.
SLU needs at least one low overhead shopping district designed for art galleries and small businesses. Maybe a euro style walking street?
c. A PacRim academic center could revolutionize the Seattle Schools and attract families.
An important part of a new city neighborhood is attitude toward schools. This is a critical time in our city. After decades of devotion to integration in Seattle, the Supreme Court has made our system of racial preferences illegal. Racial assignments were dieing anyway, a victim of costs of busing, yuppification of Seattle's more central districts, and affluent parents .... Black and White, choosing to send their kids to private $chools.
SLU could have an academic cluster containing a library and a public High School. This could seed a lot of activity, esp. if this were an innovative school built, perhaps, with Gates money, and commi9ted to attracting all kids. The result? Families, including Black families, would choose to live in SLU because of the school! Done well, such an academic center could be a commercial magnet as well, housing a new-world library built to serve the information era.
A very creative idea might be to take advantage of the public spirit of Seattle's private schools. Northwest School (see article in this Blog) is a great example. its founders were very much liberals and very much fristrated by the public school system. They still work hard to recruit kids from divers backgreounds and support this with scholarships.
Why not have the academic center INCLUDE private schools! If Lakeside, Bush, Northwest, the Catholic Schools and U Prep and so on really mean what they say about diversity, this might be an opportunity. The PacRim academic center could be public but provide resources that students form these $chools could share.
My example of moving the Burke Museum (below) fits this idea. The Burke has a great and largely unseen collection of PacRim art in a time where Asia is the center of much of the economic future.
I can go on and on ..........
e. a biotech incubator, that is rental space for start up companies. Most start ups do not have the $$$ to buy a buildoing from Vulcan!
Why isn't there one now? I suspect it is an investment risk issue. OK, but isn't that the sort of risk that the city, the state and Vulcan might want to share?
f. some cool public sculpture.
This may seem like a small issue but it is not. The sculptures in Fremont ... Waiting for the Interurban, Lenin and the gnome are huge assets that define that neighborhood.
g. housing designed to be affordable to fellows.
This is a bit like the issue of an incubator. Fellows incomes are at the lowq end of what Vulcan is promising and grad students are even worse off. BUT, these are very desireble tenants. Thyey take good care of their homes and graduate to more expensive tastes. And ... the presence of housing attracts busiuness. This would be a very logical collaboration between the Biotech businesses, the Hutch anjd the UW.
h. a technical book store.
The University Book Store is a non profit! They should have a branch downtown anyway. So .. why not subsidize them t create special branch for bhusiness and tech .. in SLU? Couild even be part of the academic cluster!
i. wireless web
This is an obvious and inexpensive amenity.
j. move Allan's own institute from Fremont to SLU.
k. a new museum .. e.g.move the Burke to SLU.
The Burke will eventually have to move. Its current space is maxed out (and then some) and its combination of roles confusing. One idea ... the Burke is a PacRim museum, inter alia. What if the academic center was to emphasize PacRim culture? I love the idea of a school, a museum a book store all built on the themes of PacRim culture! My comments about the Northwest school, above, may be relevant.
All this would take leadership but might also be an opportunity for Mr. Allan's money to do some good WHILE being a good investment for Vulcan. Also realize that the City, NOT Mr., Allan, is subsidizing the current plan. Why should I, Joe Taxes, subsidize SLU ?
Posted by SM Schwartz at 9:02 PM