Can Obama save Ballard Denny's site?

New plans for the closely-watched Ballard Manning's/Denny's landmark property are evolving, but there's "zero" financing available to fill the vacant lot now. Maybe a stimulus will goose development.
Crosscut archive image.

No longer standing: the Ballard Denny's. An empty lot is at the intersection. (Chuck Taylor)

New plans for the closely-watched Ballard Manning's/Denny's landmark property are evolving, but there's "zero" financing available to fill the vacant lot now. Maybe a stimulus will goose development.

When last we heard of the Ballard Manning's/Denny's landmark, the city and property owner Benaroya had agreed that saving the Googie diner was not financially viable. Instead of discussing other alternatives with preservationists (such as moving the diner to a new location), the owners immediately scraped the site as if removing a barnacle from Ballard's salty bottom. The landmark was down in a day, the smashed debris hauled off, and the land has remained undeveloped.

Diner proponents of course, took the destruction personally: the other structures on the site have yet to be demolished. The diner was singled out and bulldozed as if payback for preservationist upstarts. But the empty site is still receiving scrutiny. The corner at Ballard's gateway is a reminder of how pathetic the intersection at 15th and Market is with the icon diner destroyed and Sunset Bowl shuttered. The upside is there is still a great opportunity for a developer to build something memorable there. The downside is the Denny's site might not be it.

Even apart from preservationists, many in the neighborhood who favored redevelopment of the Manning's/Denny's lot objected to the preliminary plans put forward by the developer, Rhapsody Partners of Kirkland. Critics in Ballard have complained about the development's scale, its accessibility, its pedestrian-unfriendly qualities (like drive-up businesses) and impact on existing businesses in the commercial corridor. Rhapsody assured everyone that these concerns would be addressed and that they were flexible, though not flexible enough to work with architects eager to find a way to incorporate the historic building into the new complex. reports that Rhapsody is back with new design ideas for the site, which were presented to the Ballard District Council. The new look "Market Street Landing" nods its head at Ballard history — instead of "Scandagoogienesian" roof lines, architect Arthur Chang says it takes its inspiration from the old Ballard City Hall and the neighborhood's maritime traditions with a lighthouse-like tower. To me the brick wall facing the street has a kind of condo-gothic feel suggesting Ballard is now a walled city with a watchtower to keep out...the preservationists? It's still a work in progress.

Though, apparently, little progress is being made now because Rhapsody reports that they cannot finance the project in the current economic climate. There's "zero" money out there. But the developer hopes that things will turn around under President Obama. According to Myballard, Rhapsody's Katie Vance said: "Our intention is to take this project through the MUP (Master Use Permit) and hope that this economy and the new president and all these things that are being put into place are a catalyst to move this forward."

Based on this sneak preview, however, the project still doesn't seem shovel-ready.

Frustrated members of the Save Manning's organization don't like what's happened so far, to say the least. Alan Michelson, head of the Architecture and Urban Planning Library at the University of Washington and one of the spearheads of the effort to save the diner, had this to say about the current state of affairs:

If the ownership and developers hadn't been so determined to squelch opposition, the Manning's/Denny's would still be standing, serving meals, and at least generating rental income. Save Mannings tried at every turn to talk with ownership about other developmental approaches, but was ignored and vilified. They prolonged the process needlessly and now find themselves with a highly visible vacant lot with few immediate possibilities. Petulantly destroying the landmark but preserving all other mundane buildings on the property demonstrated their contempt for community efforts.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.