Archive for June, 2010

Ride along with the First Hill streetcar

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

The city of Seattle has produced a flyover video that shows the Broadway alignment of the First Hill streetcar route. Click here for video.

The city and Sound Transit are moving forward with plans to build the new streetcar line linking First Hill

Visualization courtesy of city of Seattle.
with Capitol Hill and the International District.

The city and Sound Transit have executed an agreement that includes an expedited construction timeline. The line is anticipated to open in 2013 instead of the 2016 completion as was earlier planned.

The city will build and operate the new line, which voters approved as part of the 2008 Sound Transit 2 ballot measure.

The First Hill Streetcar will serve major Seattle work centers, including Swedish Hospital, Harborview Medical Center, Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College.

The line will link to the Link light rail system that opened this summer and the Capitol Hill light rail station when University Link opens in 2016. The city plans to begin construction in 2011.

Large New York City apartments are the rage

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Some Seattle developers have said they intend to build smaller housing units to keep price points lower and therefore more appealing to workers downtown.

New York City

But they’re living large in New York City. The New York Times reports that sales of three- and four-bedroom apartments jumped last year, and that the mini-trend is continuing. This is another sign NYC is becoming more family friendly, according to the newspaper.  Here’s the story.

Cantwell questions Locke about NOAA move

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

SeattleScape blogger Irene Wall has an update on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s plans to relocate six research vessels to Newport, Ore. from Seattle next year. It is a press release from U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell on construction under way in Newport of the Marine Operations Center – Pacific pier to serve as home port for the NOAA vessels. In the release, Cantwell questions Commerce Secretary Gary Locke about the move.  Read it here. You can read Wall’s view of NOAA’s choice in the post below.

NOAA’s Choice —Greenbacks or Green Sturgeon?

Friday, June 18th, 2010

If NOAA ships lift Newport’s spirits, their hopes will be dashed soon enough but not before $30 plus million is spent on a pipe dream. I’ve watched the NOAA drama play out for the last year through the lens of NOAA engineers close to the crazy decision to move the Marine Operations Center-Pacific, a large vessel maintenance function, to a place with no marine infrastructure to support it. This guarantees added cost to all taxpayers, and little payback to Newport despite their wishful thinking.  The “175 family wage jobs” used to sell the proposal as an economic development project is greatly exaggerated.  Counting all the NOAA officers, civilian engineers and technicians who are the permanent MOC-P staff, the real number is 77 at best. The rest are wage mariners and scientists who are unlikely to take up permanent residence in Newport because their ships will only be tied to the new expensive and oversized wharf a few months of the year.  Most of the time the ships are at sea or in a drydock for major repairs in Seattle, Portland, Bellingham, or even San Francisco because that’s where the real shipyards are, not in Newport.  The majority of the scientists are also in Seattle at the Western Regional Center at Sand Point.
A little known fact is that the Oregon taxpayers are subsidizing NOAA to the tune of $19.5 million to build

NOAA Ships at WRC in Lake Washington, 2009. No Complaints from the neighbors. Photo courtesy of Irene Wall.
new digs in a NOAA-designated Tsunami risk zone!

And—surprise—NOAA Corps officers and mariners who may move there don’t have to pay Oregon income tax.  They can call any state their Home of Record and avoid paying state income tax this way.
If this seems like a terrible hoax, it gets worse with a closer look at the reasoning behind the move and the “circle the wagons” mentality NOAA officials took when Senator Maria Cantwell and two independent watchdog agencies asked questions about NOAA’s decision to build in a floodplain and reject offers by the General Services Administration to use existing federal buildings and waterfront facilities in Seattle rather than spend millions on new buildings and piers in Newport.
On May 26th the Office of the Inspector General sent to NOAA a memo essentially saying STOP until we sort this mess out.
Instead, NOAA joined a party June 6th at the Port of Newport to show off its newest ship the Bell M Shimada which arguably should have been using its high tech multibeam sonar to track the Great Gulf Oil Slick instead of making PR appearances in Newport.
Environmental Roulette
Why should we care about this?  It’s just a few ships leaving Seattle, and we’re just being sore losers.  Maybe, but the NOAA move raises an even greater question —what is the environmental price for moving ships to Newport?  The Newport boomers see dollar signs; they want growth. It’s Deus Ex NOAA. Yet why would NOAA, whose Fisheries Service branch,  “is dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources through science-based conservation and management, and the promotion of healthy ecosystems” chose to build a huge 64,000 SF wharf in their own recently designated Critical Fish Habitat for the endangered green sturgeon?
The recently filed  Oregon State Lands permit application on the project goes on for pages describing how critically important eelgrass habitat is for a dozen species of fish in Yaquina Bay and how difficult eelgrass mitigation is and how they searched the entire area and could only find three disconnected little spots to attempt the “restoration” of eelgrass. Yikes, how about NOT destroying it in the first place. Conservation before mitigation!  As local officials clamp down on permits for any new habitat shading dock, you would expect NOAA to model better behavior.
The permit’s spin is that the mitigation eelgrass will be “better” than the existing resources (if it gets established!). This sounds like destroying the village in order to save it. If there is a compelling reason to plant more eelgrass in Yaquina Bay, NOAA should just do it, but not hold eelgrass restoration goals hostage

NOAA Ship at Federal Center South, June 2010. Plenty of room here.
to a new wharf.
NOAA declares that there is simply no other practicable alternative and they simply MUST build all new facilities in Newport, but this is absurd.
Since the fire on their Lake Union pier in 2006, the Marine Operations Center-Pacific has managed to do its work and homeport its ships in the Seattle area using piers the federal government already owns at Sand Point WRC on Lake Washington, and Federal Center South on the Duwamish.  The environmentally responsible, sustainable and economical choice would be to continue this, not demand all new facilities elsewhere.  But NOAA officials in DC and locally ignored this and tried to justify their action saying that back in the 1970s citizens opposed a NOAA expansion at the Sand Point.  Problem is NOAA also has letters in their file from 2010 from the same citizens welcoming NOAA to stay at Sand Point and having made no complaints about two ships docked there since 2006.

At a time when President Obama is asking all federal agencies to cut back, NOAA is insisting on all new digs for ships that will only be tied up at the “homeport” a fraction of the year.
The Port of Newport and NOAA appear to be trying to box in the Corps of Engineers by going ahead with upland construction even before the formal public notice period on the permit. There’s still a chance that the Corps will see the light and deny the permit because by their own rules, they must only approve the “least environmentally damaging practicable alternative” and they are not limited to NOAA or Newport’s definition of what that should be.

Future of Office Construction?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Office building construction has been a mainstay of urban and suburban development for decades. But will it always be, at least in decent economic times? To some extent it likely will in the Seattle area, with our always-growing population and our success in key industries. But even here, the volume will probably slow down compared to recent decades. In metros that aren’t growing, I suspect that office development will slow to the level needed to replace whatever is lost, or even start to shrink a little.

The drivers of heavy past growth have played out — particularly the conversion to a white collar economy, and massive employment growth as women entered the workforce. Today, plenty of drivers point in the other direction, or might soon.

It used to be that most white collar jobs didn’t offshore easily. Many now do, or soon will. This trend isn’t a steady line and each industry’s experience is unique, often resulting in fits and starts, but the general direction seems clear. Our economy might get noticeably less white collar in the coming years.

Telecommuting is starting to live up to its potential. Even while most of us crave human contact, the basic telecommuting tools are finally getting easy. Broadband on the computer and phone. Teleconferencing with a simple webcam. Home access to networks rather than just email. If commuting is a challenge too, or expensive as oil prices rise….the planets are starting to align for more telecommuting.

Office square footage per person seems to be shrinking. Some of this is a reaction to cost, both in a great economy when space is expensive, and in a bad economy when tenants have less money. Some of it is cultural, as companies choose communalism over personal space. But it’s also structural — things that have always required a lot of space are requiring less and less, from filing cabinets we no longer need because of digital documents, to flat-screen monitors that allow shallower desks, to cell phones that allow people to step away for private conversations rather than relying on walls.

Some companies are going as far as not having assigned desks at all, which is related to the telecommuting trend and the digital trend. Maybe each person has a rolling cart with his or her personal stuff, plus a laptop on Wi-Fi. Maybe the office has 50 staff but only 20 or 30 desks, where people camp as-needed.

I don’t expect age demographics to have a big effect, at least not directly. Some suggest that as baby boomers reach retirement, they’ll take white collar jobs with them, particularly fewer new people will be entering the workforce (boomers’ kids are entering the workforce now, but after them comes another baby bust). But I suspect that the number of white collar jobs will be tied to demand for the services they provide, not the availability of the same people to provide those services. The main age-related demographic effect should be cultural, as younger people adapt better to freeform offices, and might be more open to telecommuting from the coffee shop.

Even as some trends become clear, there are too many questions to be sure about the bottom line. As some office jobs go away, will others take their place? If not, what other jobs will? Will wages in other countries rise relative to ours, which might help keep jobs from offshoring? What will the dollar do? Will people really telecommute effectively, in large numbers? Will anyone retire anytime soon?

If you’re looking for a positive on the commercial development side, here’s a big one: There might be a lot more housing construction in business districts. These will pencil more often because, for one, they won’t have to compete as much with office developments. The same traffic and oil price issues that may reduce commuting will encourage proximity for many people, even as some telecommuters head for the hills. Living in a mixed-use district seems poised to keep growing as a lifestyle choice, as each wave of added residents makes a district more attractive for the next wave. Heck, if you believe that the US will lose some of its economic primacy, maybe places like Seattle will end up being second home destinations for people from overseas, like Vancouver.

Unrelated aside: The City should go easy on the Macy’s skybridge. The store is important to Downtown, and we should support it rather than penalizing it. I agree that Seattle shouldn’t have a skybridge network, but they’re ok in special circumstances, particularly when they already exist.

Are pedestrian malls the future or relics?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Next American City has an article that looks at bringing cars back to pedestrian malls. It says that four decades

Sacramento’s K Street Transit Mall. Credit: El Cobrador.
after Sacramento closed a section of downtown’s K Street to automobiles, the leaders of California’s capital have had enough. They want the cars back to bring new vitality to the city’s streets to save businesses threatened by extinction due to a lack of traffic. Read about it here.

Tateuchi giving millions for Bellevue performance center

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

The Seattle Times has a story saying the Tateuchi Foundation is giving $25 million toward the creation of a

Plans for the Tateuchi Center, in Bellevue, include a 2,000-seat concert hall and an intimate, 250-seat cabaret-style venue, according to The Seattle Times.
Plans for the Tateuchi Center, in Bellevue, include a 2,000-seat concert hall and an intimate, 250-seat cabaret-style venue, according to The Seattle Times.

2,000-seat performance center in downtown Bellevue.
The gift reinvigorates the capital campaign for what was formerly called the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE), and will now be called the Tateuchi Center, the story says.
Read it here: