EDITORIAL: Progress or preservation? — Should we sacrifice heritage for opportunity in downtown development?

The influx of development in our historic downtown corridor has been accelerating even more debate. The issue crosses neighborhood boundaries, affecting both the International District (ID) and Pioneer Square.  Most backlash is due to recent proposals, which include the demolition of the Argen’s Lock building on Main Street for a building housing 7-story residential units and the “Old Seattle Garage” located on the corner of Jackson Sreet and Alaskan Way.

The conversion of the garage is instigating the most controversy, which includes  a proposed 11-story building that might obstruct views of the waterfront and block sunlight. This will also affect residents and businesses due to more construction in an already construction-heavy area.

Space available for demolition is rare and expensive, so it is understood why developers would want to build higher. So would this help or hinder our neighborhoods? Do we preserve a historic building that houses a parking lot or allow construction of an 11-story building that might introduce commerce?

Consider the Wave building on the Second Avenue extension, which anyone would agree, is not hard to miss. It borders the ID, Pioneer Square, and the nebulous core that houses football, soccer, and baseball fans. Is the Wave a 26-floor glass monstrosity that blocks your water view and disrupts cobble-stone-street aesthetic? Or is it the home that allows access to restaurants, Sounders games, and galleries?

And then… there is the sensitive subject of the disproportionate amount of homeless due to the recent elimination of free bus rides in downtown zones.  Now, during the summer months, it is hard to ignore the prevalence of those who are homeless and the mentally ill (without access to treatment) and are now more likely to be sequestered due to transit changes.

The opportunity of new residential and commercial neighbors might shift this balance. It might not directly help an issue we should be addressing with more vigor, but perhaps by boosting economy rather than sustaining it, we move forward and we will have the resources to eventually contribute to even more important problems.

There are two sides to 11 stories. (end)

2 Responses to “EDITORIAL: Progress or preservation? — Should we sacrifice heritage for opportunity in downtown development?”

  1. Greg Aden says:

    To conclude (my post got cut), the I-D deserves the same level of preservation and respect as Pioneer Square. There is no victor, so we shouldn’t divide the spoils. What we have is an incredible city, and with city planning that considers resident, historic, and aesthetic concerns, developers can play a vital role without damaging our future. We should lead, Developers should follow.

  2. Greg Aden says:

    I appreciate your desire to accentuate the challenges in this debate. However, many of us residents in Pioneer Square believed the Square and its previous height limits were protected with backing from the Department of the Interior and the Pioneer Square Preservation Board. Having surveyed merchants and residents, few of us were aware that height limits could be raised, thus diminishing light in Pioneer Square, and most importantly eroding the character of this jewel of Seattle; this historic gem that we fought so hard to save 45 years ago.

    No, our City Council gave it up to developers in 2011. Developers will play the green card of population density, but they’re renting 500-1000 square foot apartments to above-average earners without regard for the preservation of Seattle’s French Quarter, Seattle’s North Beach, Seattle’s Greenwich Village….. Is our history sacred, or shall we punt, and let the few enrich themselves through glass buildings that poorly fail to reflect their avarice?

    As for the I-D, its day of refuge for the recent immigrant has long since passed. Like the Pacific Hotel, it will be a tourist attraction reminding people of what was rather than a functioning zone of international vibrancy.

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