Community members in the Chinatown International District (CID) are concerned about the possible impacts of a huge construction project planned for the intersection of 8th Avenue and Lane Street. The Spring Hill Mariott Suites project will be built on the site of the King’s Hookah Lounge and the defunct Repographics Northwest company. At 14 stories, it will be about twice as tall as the next tallest buildings in the CID, according to Michael Omura, Project Development Manager at the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda). The project will contain a restaurant, a 158-room hotel, 103 apartments and 20 condo units, as well as parking space for 175 vehicles.
The project is undergoing multiple reviews after the developer’s land use application was accepted by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.
Ron Chew, foundation director of International Community Health Services (ICHS), said that before the land was acquired by the developers, the ICHS healthcare nonprofit was hoping to develop the site as an expansion that could offer healthcare, and possibly housing. Chew and other community members discussed this possibility, conducted a feasibility study and waited for the city to provide funding to develop the site before being outbid by the developers in 2014.
Chew said losing the opportunity to develop the site for ICHS was a huge blow for the community. “This particular project I think is heartbreaking in many respects,” he said. “We lost one of our community members, Donnie Chin as a result of some activity that happened in a space which we want to hopefully improve. And we wanted to be the players in making that happen. It doesn’t mean that we have to be part of every project that happens, but we lost Donnie, we lost a property that could have been a nice adjunct to what’s already going on at ID Village Square. That said, the developers are nice people, they seem like they have some vision and want to help the neighborhood.”
Still, Chew and others have concerns about how the project might affect the patients who rely on ICHS’s health services.
“We have ten thousand patients who migrate in and out of our clinic and we’re concerned first and foremost for those folks we currently serve,” Chew said. “We want to make sure they’re not displaced, that they have safe entry and access.”
Omura of SCIDpda said that the site will see traffic, both during construction and after the 175 parking lots are constructed. This might be a problem for ICHS, which relies on the street as a drop-off area for the elderly and young children.
“There’s already a lot of traffic in that area, congestion right now, that is really bad for folks going to ICHS,” said Jamie Lee, IDEA Space Manager at SCIDpda.
Another concern is the street frontage of the project, Omura said. This will likely include a garage drop-off and entrance to the residential area. “We don’t think that that contributes much to the activation of that intersection, and so we’re kind of concerned about that,” he said.
In terms of the pedestrian environment such an entrance won’t contribute much to the neighborhood, Lee explained. “You’re just gonna have residents coming in and out, so it’s not gonna actually enliven or make the area more vibrant,” she said.
Gentrification is always a concern in the CID, according to Maiko Winkler-Chin, Executive Director of SCIDpda, and large projects like this one can raise concerns about the changes it might bring. But at the same time, she said, neighborhood residents want more market-rate housing in the neighborhood, so that people from a variety of incomes can live there.
Most other property owners in the CID neighborhood are members of the community, Winkler-Chin said. Changing ownership patterns in the neighborhood could have a huge impact.
“There’s a sense of commitment to the neighborhood,” she said. “But trying to contact a real estate investment trust that may be located in a different country or a different time zone—how do we find them, how do we let them know about neighborhood initiatives?”
Because of how the CID is zoned, it’s inevitable that more tall buildings will spring up, Omura and Lee said.
“We know that development’s coming, we know it’s happening,” Lee said. “So it’s like, what would we like to see and how we can kind of guide the conversation around it?”
While he agrees that change in the neighborhood is inevitable, Chew sees the project as a source of concern both for its massive scale and the possible future it represents for the neighborhood.
“This particular project I think has triggered a lot of, I would say, anxiety by folks who’ve been active in this neighborhood for a long time,” Chew said. “We’re at a crossroads, because we know the neighborhood’s gonna change. We want and I think accept that there will be new players in the mix acquiring and redeveloping spaces for community use. That’s the nature of a community and neighborhood—it always thrives because it evolves.”
But certain changes raise key questions, especially in a neighborhood with such a strong sense of community as the CID, Chew said.
“What kind of new neighbors will we have? This particular project has been a little bit troubling to us because it feels kind of like a project that looks inward rather than connecting with the community around it.”
In a neighborhood with community parks, community centers, a library and health clinic, Chew said he hopes new residents can be part of the community by, for example, coming to the park. “They shouldn’t simply be self-enclosed inside the structure with their own parking and interior green spaces, but they should be contributing something to the larger neighborhood. So that’s part of the conversation I think we’re having, both with this developer as well as with future developers.”
The recent acquisition of Bush Garden by developers, and its transition as a business, is another symbolic loss in the neighborhood, Winkler-Chin said. And it’s one that brings to mind “Uncle” Bob Santos, a welcoming face of the neighborhood, who wanted to work with community members to develop the site of the King’s Hookah Bar. “Having that loss with all of this is, I think emotionally somewhat difficult,” Winkler-Chin said. “And you are playing out in this greater bubble of displacement and gentrification and who’s buying the real estate, and just this real unsettling moment in this city’s history.”
“I think in the end it’s the spirit of the place that we want to preserve,” Chew said. “People who made this place, who we still think about and want to preserve some core of what they would have wanted.”
And, Winkler-Chin adds, “Understanding that the future’s right there too. It’s a balance.”
Disclosure: Ron Chew is the board president of the International Examiner.