Archive for October, 2010

Can Retail Downtown Survive $4/Hour Street Parking?

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Being a public-sector employee, I understand just as well as anyone the dire financial situation our local municipalities are in, due to substantially lower revenues from sales, property, utility, real estate excise other taxes. And I am all for creative solutions. Keep ’em coming!

But I have to agree with Kemper Freeman, Jr., that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s  plan to hike Downtown on-street parking rates is ill advised. There is no doubt that it would raise needed revenues. And if you’ve driven the obstacle course of potholes that our local streets have become, you certainly can’t argue that SDOT needs more revenue. But a healthy, thriving and competitive retail sector is crucial to the continued success of one of this nation’s most successful downtowns. Parking for $4 an hour is a mighty high rate. In fact, it would be one of the highest in the country.

Is it high enough to scare away retail shoppers, restaurant-goers, theater-goers, etc.? That’s hard to say, but is it worth the gamble?

In the early 1990s, during Downtown Seattle’s possibly darkest period, after the closing of several venerable retail establishments, not the least of which was Frederick & Nelson, I served on a task force convened by Mayor Rice. The objective of that task force was to study Downtown parking options. Without going into detail about our findings, the prevailing notion was that there were enough obstacles to retail’s success in Downtown, and parking rates (something the City could actually control) should not be another!

We should not rest on the laurels of our recent successes Downtown by assuming that the retail community is so rock-solid that it can withstand yet another blow after the Great Recession. If substantially increased hourly parking rates deter retail visitors, that could be the proverbial last straw for many retailers.

Portland, a city we often look to enviously for its innovative and progressive ways, has both an easily accessible system of public parking garages, as well as an affordable set of parking rates, due to an aggressive validation campaign.

Perhaps we should look to our neighbors for some creative ideas. Perhaps the $4/hour parking rate would be palatable if there were an ambitious new validation system. Perhaps a more modest hike in parking rates would pass under the radar, yielding more revenue without scaring away customers. I’m sure there are many ideas that perhaps a new Downtown parking task force could take under advisement. The Mayor would do well to consider convening such a task force before a unilateral parking-rate hike.

Okay, Okay! Build your tunnel

Friday, October 8th, 2010

So I’ve been thinking. What would I be willing to take in exchange for supporting the deep bore tunnel? What would it take for me to capitulate and get on board the deep bore bandwagon? Okay, here it is. It’s pretty simple and straightforward: a sensible land use policy. I think it might just be worth the $4.5 billion, the rancor and the power grab by the Seattle City Council if we could get our act together on land use in Seattle. We know compact communities are better for the environment, use less energy, and promote walking, biking, and transit use. So warm up the boring machine but here’s what I want first.

Let’s start with Beacon Hill. About 15 years ago I moved to Beacon Hill and got involved in the neighborhood planning process. It was fun. I learned a lot and the various committees and organizations on the Hill worked hard to develop a vision for Beacon Hill. There was a small, dedicated, and relentless group focused on getting Beacon Hill a station on the new light rail line that would be passing deep under the neighborhood. There was no plan for a Beacon Hill station, or at least there wasn’t any money. But the group persevered, and, amazingly, landed a plan for a station and a commitment for a station shell. They pushed some more. Finally, there was a commitment to build a station—one of the deepest in the world at the time—to serve the neighborhood.

At the time the neighborhood was also planning where to put the library and how to take advantage of the lid going in at the reservoir in Jefferson Park. All of these things were challenging (sometimes controversial) and took a lot of energy from neighbors. But the station seemed to be an unqualified and big win. We’d finally get that core to the neighborhood conceived of in the planning process. The neighborhood could finally grow up with mixed use buildings and retail. We’d exchange the squat and decaying buildings for transit oriented development. Again, not without controversy, but why not take advantage of the rail line to create a compact downtown for Beacon Hill centered on transit.

Well, what does downtown Beacon Hill look like today?

All photos are by Roger Valdez.

I moved to Capitol Hill some time ago. But a recent trip to Beacon Hill made me wonder “what happened.” Then I thought about the City Council falling all over themselves to dig the tunnel on the water front. Why that big project and not Beacon Hill?  Fifteen years after I moved there, Beacon Hill does not have thriving transit oriented development. Instead the station looks like the stump of a felled tree. And that’s about how it feels.

So dig your tunnel City Council. But I’d like to see the rezones on my desk for transit oriented development on Beacon Hill by the end the day. That shouldn’t be to hard, just dust off the plans we worked so hard on. We’d also have a chance to consider things like district energy, affordability, and LEED requirements as part if the legislation. And rezones are free! Write up that resolution for Monday, pass it with a unanimous vote (sure they’ll be a few whiners in the audience but that shouldn’t slow you down. You’re the “get it done gang,” after all).  How exciting! Maybe one day we’ll be able to stand up and say we’re like Redmond. Here’s what they built near their park and ride.

And what the heck, once the rezones are signed, sealed and delivered, I’ll bet we can talk Mayor McGinn into taking a trip out of town so Richard Conlin can do the honors and sign them into law. I’ll even loan him a pen.

More architecture firms changing their names

Friday, October 1st, 2010

The New York Times has an interesting article about how some architecture firms are moving away from

Photo courtesy of
listing star architects in the company name. Here is the story.