BY NHIEN NGUYEN
Examiner Staff

A “Dearborn Street” Project, which proposes to build 600,000 square feet of retail space and 400 residential units on the Seattle Goodwill site, has prompted concerns from the Little Saigon and the International District neighborhoods.

Darrell Vange of Ravenhurst Development Inc., a partner in the Goodwill redevelopment, presented the details of the project at a community meeting in the International District on Dec. 20. The meeting included individuals from Inter*Im, Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Vietnamese American Economic Development Association (VAEDA), Seattle Chinatown/ID Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA), among others.

The project will create three to four city blocks on the 10-acre development near Rainier Avenue South and South Dearborn Street. In exchange for the redevelopment of the property, Goodwill will own their new space, which will be expanded to better accommodate their retail store and job training and education programs.

The shopping complex, with over 400 free underground parking spots, will be a combination of two types of retail shops, according to Vange. The first has a “neighborhood orientation” with goods and services for the immediate community, such as a grocery store, independently-owned shops, restaurants, coffee-house, a bank and fitness club.

The second type will serve the greater area, including Capitol Hill, Belltown and Rainier Valley, with establishments such as a large general merchandiser, a home improvement store, a home electronics store, office supplies, pet supplies, furniture and clothing stores.

Vange said that the shopping complex would not be another University Village.

“It will not be an upscale market, but middle market, serving a broad spectrum and large population,” said Vange. He added that it would serve those who live within a few miles of downtown that currently go to Bellevue, Northgate or Southcenter to shop at these types of stores.

One of the most contentious issues of this shopping and housing complex is the traffic impact in an already congested area, in particular the turn from Rainier Avenue onto Dearborn Street.

“The amount of traffic that 600,000 square feet of retail space would draw in would create massive traffic jams on major arterials and streets leading into the neighborhood,” said Quang Nguyen of VAEDA, in a previous statement. “Adding more traffic would discourage people from coming [to Little Saigon] to shop and thus would negatively impact the revenues of small businesses.”

Vange says that he is aware that they will have to rebuild the intersection. He may propose an additional lane from the north.

“It’s incumbent on us to not make traffic worse,” said Vange, who is working with the city on a draft EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and a preliminary traffic study on the affected areas.

In order for the project to go forward, the area will need to be re-zoned. Currently, the site area is zoned industrial, which is why housing doesn’t exist now. Vange said the housing development is in line with the South Downtown Livability Study, which is encouraging residential living in the Little Saigon area.

Bob Santos of Inter*Im expressed concerns over Vange’s proposed workforce and “market rate” housing.

Santos, an advocate for affordable housing, asked, “What does [market rate] mean? People who work at Goodwill, could they live there?”

Vange said that though their company is not the developer of housing, he does not think that the units will be tax-credit affordable housing or nonprofit housing. He envisions housing similar to that of 23rd and Jackson and South First Hill.

Nguyen, who says he is not against development, is extremely concerned that this project will “dilute the unique character of Little Saigon.”

“We don’t necessarily want to stop this project but we do want the developer to shape it in such a way as to be beneficial to our community,” said Nguyen, who noted the potential opportunity to build a Vietnamese cultural center, a retirement complex for elders and/or a park for Little Saigon.

Vange said the project offers the opportunity for the surrounding neighborhoods to bring in more shoppers to the area. He plans to develop the project such that it complements the surrounding communities. He will consider “stronger mechanisms to connect Little Saigon” with the redevelopment.

“I genuinely hope that [the project] will help Little Saigon,” said Vange. “I don’t think retailers will compete head to head with Little Saigon businesses.”

The project will break ground in 2007. Expected completion date is 2009 or 2010.

Vange said, “I don’t see [the project] being a problem or an impediment to the community. It will be a benefit.”
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