Big Deal in Little Saigon

July 13, 2006

Seattle Weekly.com

July 12, 2006

News

Goodwill has reached agreement with a developer on a plan that could transform the neighborhood.

By Mike Seely

A mini-Northgate proposed for Little Saigon.

Ryan Frederiksen

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Goodwill Industries’ local chapter has wrestled with how to pay for desired multimillion-dollar upgrades to an increasingly decrepit thrift store, warehouse, and job training facility on 8 acres along South Dearborn Street west of Rainier Avenue South. That land straddles the Little Saigon wing of the International District and the Rainier Avenue commercial corridor. In 2000, local developer Wright Runstad purchased $3.75 million in adjacent parcels and announced a partnership with the charity. Goodwill was to receive upgraded facilities in exchange for allowing Wright Runstad to develop office space. Post-dot-com crash, however, the project fizzled, with Wright Runstad flipping the $3.75 million parcel back to Goodwill in 2005, as per their agreement.

Enter Darrell Vange of Ravenhurst Development, a local partner of TRF Pacific, who has reached an agreement in principle to develop a six-story, 700,000-square-foot mixed-use retail development with some 500 mixed- income housing units and underground parking for 2,300 vehicles—subject to city approval and rezoning from industrial-commercial to neighborhood-commercial. (For comparison, Northgate Mall is about 1 million square feet and has some 6,000 parking spaces.)

The deal, which is in environmental review, provides Goodwill with condominiumlike stewardship of 120,000 square feet in new educational, retail, and warehouse facilities. In exchange, TRF will be given control of the property, valued conservatively at $20 million.

Sounds like a win-win, right? Not for everyone. Earlier this month, the Vietnamese-American Economic Development Association (VEADA) began a signature drive among Little Saigon merchants and residents in opposition to the Goodwill redevelopment, citing traffic and compatibility issues in an area that is quickly becoming one of the city’s most surprising, organically growing small-business districts. “Essentially, it’s a suburban mall dressed up in a spiffy urban outfit,” VEADA Executive Director Quang Nguyen says of the project.

VEADA has collected more than 600 signatures, with a goal of 2,000. “It’s not in sync with what the neighborhood has been planning for a long time,” says Nguyen. “With Chinatown, we’ve been working on a neighborhood plan that tries to encourage transit-oriented development, and this project is certainly not transit-oriented. It’s auto-oriented and big-box retail. The arterials are already pretty congested, and if you add this extra element, you’re just going to clog up the streets, and it’s going to make our customers less likely to go to our business district.”

Counters Vange: “The city is reviewing our traffic study right now, and I do not believe traffic will be a problem. Where we do affect the behavior of intersections, we’re required to mitigate it, which we will do by redesigning intersections, widening streets, adding turn lanes, etc.”

Vange adds that he has presented a plan to VEADA outlining the new development’s intent to promote and offer space to existing small businesses.

Meanwhile, Goodwill Seattle CFO Michael Jurich is confident that the process is still fluid enough for all sides to come away satisfied. “We’ve had a number of community meetings and feel we have a good relationship with VEADA,” says Jurich. “Their concerns are concerns which we’re hopeful the developer and they can work out so this project is good for all the community.

“As a nonprofit, we don’t have a lot of capacity to spend tens of millions of dollars on new facilities,” says Jurich. “We were in a fortunate position that our forefathers had bought this property, so for years we’ve been trying to address our long-term facility needs by leveraging the value of this property. It turned out to be a fabulous plan from our perspective. We’ll have about a 20 percent increase in job training capacity with the new facility.”

“Obviously, this is an opportunity for us; otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it,” acknowledges Vange. “But this is also a fabulous opportunity for Goodwill to get new facilities for the future so they can continue to expand their mission of job training and education.”

mseely@seattleweekly.com

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