Plans for the project started in 2004. Five years later, after lots of opposition from community members, the Dearborn Street Project has been cancelled due to the stagnant economy.
By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Due to the current recession, there will no longer be a new building for Seattle Goodwill.
The 120,000-square-foot building was originally scheduled to open in 2008. It was going to provide expanded job-training and education programs near Little Saigon in the International District.
On April 24, Darrell Vange, president of Ravenhurst Development, announced that Ravenhurst will abandon the $300 million Dearborn Street project.
The current state of the economy played a major role in the decision. “For the past year, we’ve known that it’s becoming progressively more difficult, so we’ve been contemplating this over the last six months,” he stated. “In today’s real estate market, you can’t get a loan for more than $50 million.”
“So, no investors, no lenders, no project,” said Vange.
Ravenhurst Development and TRF Pacific, another Seattle-based developer, are members of the Dearborn Street Developers. He said, “We’ve spent $6 million in total, but decided that it would take a long, long time to recoup with no certainty of success.”
Seattle Goodwill will review its options, which include “making necessary repairs and capital improvements to our existing facilities,” it announced in a released statement by Ken Colling, Goodwill CEO and president.
The developers worked on several issues in public hearings with the city planning department and received “lots of community input to the process,” according to Vange.
“My hope is that this process, though it was unsuccessful for us, might have led to more communication, more discussion, more visioning, more talk within the Vietnamese community about what they want to see, how they communicate to city council, who their leaders are, what their future should hold,” he said. “Little Saigon is a big enough community that it needs its own vision, and I think this project helped that get started.”
The Dearborn Street Coalition for Livable Neighborhoods (DSCLN), one of the coalitions made up of several neighborhood organizations, formed in opposition to the project.
It eventually reached an agreement with the developers and signed a Community Benefits Agreement last August.
The other coalition, known as the Community Alliance for Responsible Development (CARD), is one made up of former DSCLN members and others who supported continued talks about the project’s impact on Little Saigon.
Hyeok Kim, executive director of the Inter*Im Community Development Association (ICDA) — a nonprofit affordable housing developer and CARD member — says the ICDA had mixed feelings about the project.
“We do have a measure of relief that the project, as it currently is envisioned, isn’t something that’s going to move forward,” she said. “On the other hand, we have a great deal of sympathy for Goodwill.”
She acknowledges Seattle Goodwill’s plan to provide “a state-of-the-art facility for the clients that they serve” is one worthy of support.
“But, for us, ultimately, the question came down to: What’s the cost of that redevelopment for the surrounding business districts and for the surrounding residents in terms of traffic impact?” Kim said.
Tom Im, an ICDA neighborhood planner, said, “We just felt that this was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan of developing urban villages and walking neighborhoods. That’s something that I am a strong pro-ponent of.”
However, Kim pointed out that one of the “bright spots” of the project was that it was “an opportunity for us to be more proactive as a community about these very important issues and improve the way that we can help facilitate information flow.”
The developers planned to construct 600,000 square feet of retail space at the northwest corner of South Dearborn Street and Rainier Avenue South, which caused Target and Lowe’s to publicly express interest.
The original plan for the 10-acre Goodwill site included 550 apartments and condos, 50 shops and restaurants, and 2,300 parking spaces.
Quang Nguyen, the executive director of the Washington Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce (WVACC) — a DSCLN member — said, “We’re not that surprised because of the economy being what it is. There was a real possibility the project wasn’t going to move forward.”
He says his organization is looking to engage with Seattle Goodwill again, a plan also shared by Vange and Kim.
“Now, we can have a dialogue with them on a new project that will get stronger support from the community,” stated Nguyen.
Vange is also optimistic about a new project, saying “the property will be redeveloped at some point.”
“And, we’re certainly interested in developing it,” he said. ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.