Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series on how U District development will affect one of the neighborhood's longstanding groups: street youth.
If all goes according to plan, Sound Transit will open its new, North Link light rail underground station in the University District in 2021. It will be one busy station, planners say, whisking passengers from the U District to Westlake in eight minutes and to Northgate in five, some 12,000 boardings per day. Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray calls the station a "catalyst" for U District change. Indeed, the train is expected to open the floodgates of growth in one of Seattle's most crucial, vibrant and complex urban neighborhoods.
The promise of transit-oriented development has shaped plans for the U District over the last decade and those plans continue to evolve. Longtime landowners are anticipating a rush of new high-rise apartments where funky, old rental houses stand today. That transformation is already underway as turn-of-the-century rentals are increasingly being replaced by apartment blocks and townhouses.
As home to the University of Washington, one of the state's great economic and educational engines, the impact is already being felt. The UW has picked up the pace of development in the area. It is building more housing for students on the West Campus (west of 15th Ave. NE), adding some 2,000 units to the existing 3,000 by 2015. The university needs more office space too. The UW Tower is maxed out, says Theresa Doherty, the school’s director of regional and community relations.
The school is also trying to turn itself into a vital hub for new private ventures, commercializing ideas that emerge from its labs and research departments. Condon Hall, the old law school on Campus Parkway, has been re-dubbed “Start-Up Hall”, a nursery to incubate new ventures. As high-tech and biotech companies have flourished, whole neighborhoods like South Lake Union and Fremont are getting makeovers. The U District presents another intriguing urban canvas.
University-driven startups have been crucial to cultivating high-tech regions like Silicon Valley, which is closely connected to Stanford University. UW president Michael Young is a commercialization booster, telling GeekWire it would be great if the effort put “a few more Porsches in the faculty parking lot,” though he sees the main purpose as extending the UW’s mission to do “good.” UW associate vice president Norm Arkans calls what’s to come “South Lake Union North.”
Along with Porsches, the UW's commercialization efforts will likely draw new residents and employees to the U District. Workers for the “next Amazon” promise to alter the economic ecology of the neighborhood, which has until now been home to students in affordable housing. The UW's Theresa Doherty says the neighborhood, which is represented by the planning group University Partnership, wants to see more non-student residents.
Construction of the U District light rail station is well underway at Brooklyn and 43rd. Credit: Allyce Andrew
While private developers will serve that emerging housing market, the university has pledged to emphasize transit-oriented development. It owns the development rights to build on top of the underground U District Station under construction at 43rd and Brooklyn. The station is ground zero for U District change. While the UW has no specific plan as yet, officials are looking at both office space and housing for the site.
To guide all the change, Seattle issued a new Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in April. The EIS looks at three zoning strategies for the neighborhood's future. The DEIS defines the neighborhood as running from Portage Bay on the south to Ravenna Boulevard on the north, and from 15th Ave. NE on the east to I-5 on the west. In other words, it excludes the UW's main campus, which operates independently and where most of the UW's employees work.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!