Democratize SLU development: An open letter to Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Guest opinion: An idea to maintain diversity and culture in South Lake Union amid a sea of development.
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Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos.

Guest opinion: An idea to maintain diversity and culture in South Lake Union amid a sea of development.

Congratulations on your success, Jeff Bezos! You've become one of the most important innovators in the world of online business. You've matched your vision with the hard work necessary to make your ideas come to fruition. You've aligned yourself with people equally willing to start with a dream and work hard to achieve that dream.

And now you've decided to forever alter Seattle’s skyline by creating 3 million square feet (of yet to be built) office and warehousing space in the South Lake Union neighborhood. You've made a real estate purchase so far off the charts that there is really nothing to compare with your vision.   

And that’s why I'm writing this open letter. I'm asking you to dedicate 1 percent of your future real estate development holdings for artist studios, craft workshops, daycare centers, immigrant start-up businesses and locations for incubator businesses like tech start-ups.

Think of it, Jeff: A small fraction of your vast holdings turned back to the community so that other innovators, dreamers and hard workers can get a start. A start that will not only pay you and those involved, but the larger Seattle community. And, like your start, maybe an idea that branches out far beyond Seattle and influences the global community. 

Just by agreeing to entertain and give the set-aside idea a try, Mr. Bezos, you guarantee that other major real estate players will consider doing the same. You lead the way in percolating our community with artists who can work in affordable work space and craftspeople who can relax about real estate pressures, focusing instead on the boats, doors and cast metals they create by hand. You can help satisfy the ever-present need for daycare that's close to where one works. Imagine the results when immigrant groceries or specialty shops get a chance to build a customer base in a Jeff Bezos-supported project.  

It can be done, it should be done and you’re the man to do it. The ripple effect will spread far and wide, guaranteeing success far beyond South Lake Union.

The spaces themselves can be left raw. They need not have the expense of finished space. There's a cost savings right there. Set-aside rents can be based on prevailing commercial rents or there can be a soft subsidy, possibly a percentage rent scenario.  Really, you will be gaining access to the much desired "creative class" at almost no charge.  Plus, your buildings will have a diversity of occupation, language and income levels.  

This is a solution with a strong Seattle precedent. The nationally recognized and highly innovative "1 percent for Arts" program earmarks 1 percent of city capital improvement money for the commission, purchase and installation of public art. The Washington State Arts Commission allocates 1/2 of 1 percent for the Art in Public Places program, which uses state construction money to place art in public buildings throughout the state. Both were legislative authorizations.

What I'm suggesting is slightly different; setting aside actual square footage instead of a percentage of the construction budget. These programs have been highly successful, rarely controversial and have continued to give back to the community over several decades. Now is your opportunity to actualize the same. Plant the seed, Jeff, and watch the acorn grow.


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