On a Friday morning in 2015, a group of business and community stakeholders began meeting in North Rainier Valley at the 2100 Building and began identifying key priorities for sparking positive business development in the Mt Baker Town Center. The meetings were well attended, with representatives from a variety of local stakeholders, including QFC / Rite-Aid, Mt. Baker Lofts – ArtSpace (http://www.mtbakerlofts.org), Wells Fargo, US Bank, Buck & Buck (clothing manufacturer, with a focus on adaptive clothing for seniors and the disabled), UW Consolidated Laundry, Mt. Baker Housing Association, and Friends of Mt Baker Town Center. Other participating stakeholders included Mount Baker Community Club, Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, SouthEast Effective Development, and the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Particularly exciting was the fact that the City of Seattle pulled together an amazing degree of interdisciplinary focus, with representatives from the Office of Economic Development, Seattle Department of Transportation, Parks and Recreation, Neighborhoods, and Planning and Development. This level of interdepartmental coordination lends optimism and hope to those who have been advocating for a coordinated response to the complex challenges of creating a true transit oriented Town Center around the light link station, which became operational in 2009.
A main goal of the stakeholder group was development and implementation of an action plan for economic development, with improved advocacy for the Town Center through the organization of a Main Street style business development group. The City also offered support for the promotion of a Mount Baker business district, eligible for grants of up to $150,000 or more. This infusion of support will be a welcome development for an area in need of strong collaboration from the City.
The Mount Baker Business Association seeks the type of City collaboration enjoyed by other neighborhoods, such as the First Hill Improvement Association. The First Hill neighborhood was beneficiary of an interdepartmental focus of public realm investment, with business development support. See First Hill Public Realm Plan, City of Seattle: “Connecting parks and public space in First Hill to make it a more walkable neighborhood”. http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/firsthill/projectdocuments/default.htm
Friends of Mt Baker Town Center has been advocating for the City to use its successful First Hill model to bridge long standing gaps within the Rainier Valley town center. As we head into 2016, there is much to be excited about. The Accessible Mount Baker project appears to be moving forward with funding from Move Seattle Levy, and the Department of Parks and Recreation has obtained support from the King County Conservation Futures program to bridge the usable open space gap, which is cited as the worst in Southeast Seattle. With the City recommending the First Hill collaboration as a model for the area, it seems that this neglected node of our multi-billion dollar light link system will no longer lag behind the levels of investment seen in other neighborhoods, many of which already benefit from walkable amenities that support development and livability.
However, concerns about lack of funding continue to percolate. A plan without funding is not a plan at all, and advocacy continues to ensure that safety and pedestrian improvements will be funded. Theresa Barreras from OED gave the stakeholders encouragement, noting that the priorities identified by the group would culminate in a plan that, unlike previous plans, would not end up “sitting on a shelf”.
Since their initial meeting, the community of stakeholders has continued to work with the City and one another on an action plan with key priorities, including:
- Connecting Public Realm Investments to Business Development Efforts (as in First Hill)
- Supporting and Preserving Existing Businesses
- Creating a Sense of Place and Identity for the Town Center
- Safety, Including Pedestrian Safety
- Job Creation
- Targeting A Proper Mix of Housing To Attract Investment (Market and Affordable)
- Ensuring Transportation Investments Occur
- A Parking Policy conducive to economic development
- Driving Change By Collaborating With Key Property Owners (Lowe’s, QFC, Etc.)
These priorities echoed priorities previously developed by the community years ago through the Neighborhood Planning Process. See Resources page, this site.
The Stakeholder Group’s work follows close on the heels of a long awaited report from Berk Consulting, which was to serve as an important component to the region’s plans for effective transit oriented development. The report, prepared for Seattle’s Economic Development Commission, was completed some time ago but was not available for the stakeholders at the initial meeting. A formal release of the final report has been delayed, apparently to allow the Commission and the City to digest the findings and recommendations and prepare for public response. The last report by the Office of Economic Development focused on areas to the south of the Mt. Baker station. Retail Development Strategy for Rainier Valley (2009), Community Land Use and Economics Group, LLC [http://www.helloothello.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Final-OED-Retail-Study-Report-2009.pdf] The success of study and funding in those areas is already bearing fruit, with major private and public investments. http://othellopark.org/about-othello-park; http://kuow.org/post/south-seattle-development-slow-despite-promise-light-rail
In 2016, the group looks to build momentum through an inclusive process seeking input from the diverse residents, businesses and organizations within Rainier Valley, and beyond. Key partners on the vision will necessarily include Sound Transit, UW, the large Lowe’s parcel, Pepsi, Starbuck’s, and Franklin High School. Equally important voices include the smaller local businesses and residents currently working and living in the area. This includes Ben Thanh Restaurant, Thai Recipe, Tobya Art Gallery, City Cafe, Cafe Ibex, Mt. Baker Neighborhood Center for the Arts, Action Design (designer and manufacturer of business signs and awnings).
The Mt Baker Town Center also holds the potential for larger scale change, due to the co-location of several major opportunity parcels. The Lowe’s, QFC, and Pepsi properties are the largest players in terms of potential large scale impact to the area. These properties already serve the community with valuable businesses, but with the rezone the properties also represent major opportunity sites for enhanced transit oriented development that could attract major job creating development and investments and/or technology oriented opportunities to serve the greater community.
Now, with the relevant public departments teaming up with key stakeholders, it appears that the City is truly setting the table for the leadership, investment and collaboration necessary to fulfill the vision and promise of a vibrant transit oriented Town Center. Our stakeholder group is looking to move forward with a more formalized business district in 2016, with help from the Office of Economic Development, to coordinate and promote the vision of a successful Mount Baker Town Center. Please let us know if you would like to learn more, or become involved: firstname.lastname@example.org