By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
The controversy regarding the large-scale hotel development in Seattle’s International District (ID) has escalated this summer due to the proposed development schedule and increasing debate in the community. Opposite ends of the arguments range from the new development that will help introduce commerce and industry in a neighborhood which desperately could benefit from it — to a serious concern that the development will be an open invitation to other developers that might overtake the historic neighborhood and displace vulnerable residents.
What is the project?
The proposed development at 616 8th Avenue South, by Hotel Concepts, will be a 14-story, approximately 225,000-square-foot mixed-use structure containing 158 hotel rooms and 103 apartments with retail space on the ground level. There will be three levels of underground parking. Hotel Concepts purchased the site in 2014 for $4.5 million.
Existing structures (which previously housed King’s Hookah Lounge and Reprographics) would be demolished. The new building will be a SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
Studio19 Architects are the lead designers on the project and KPFF Consulting Engineers are serving as the civil engineers.
Against the development
There has been a large concern over the development proposal, largely represented by community organizations that represent the Chinatown-International District.
The Chinatown-International District Coalition (CID) — a group of community organizers which includes people who live and work in the Chinatown-International District, or have family who live, work, and receive services in the Chinatown-International District — organized a public meeting in March, which over 70 residents attended.
An informal survey about the development was conducted. According to the CID statement to the International Special District Review Board (Seattle Department of Neighborhoods), “The vast majority of participants opposed the development and feel ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ both about the proposed 14-story hotel on 8th and Lane, as well as how the city has generally engaged the community around issues of development.” The primary concerns were about “increases in traffic, decreases in pedestrian safety, disruption in access to services and daily needs, exacerbation of issues of affordability that would lead to displacement of existing residents and small businesses, and loss of a sense of community, culture, and heritage.”
CID also issued concerns about displacement, especially among the elderly. “The ID is at the highest risk of displacement, according to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan … the need for truly affordable and low-income housing is dire. The Chinatown-International District is significantly more diverse, lower income, and older than the Seattle population as a whole.”
The statement to the review board concludes with, “If Hotel Concepts is unable to genuinely engage with the community, fails to provide sufficient information in response to the above inquiries, or does not indicate through their response the kinds of impacts that community members have shown are of serious concern, we urge you to deny approval of the project.”
International Community Health Services (ICHS), a nonprofit community health center in the ID offering primary medical care, behavioral health, WIC, and health education services, is located a block away from the proposed development. According to a statement by its CEO Teresita Batayola, the main concerns with the development are vehicular access, impacts of traffic, zoning scale impacts, and shadow impacts of buildings in the immediate area and potential construction impacts.
Batayola stated, “South Lane Street functions as a drop-off site for the elderly who attend the adult day services at Legacy House, which is located across the street from the curb cuts proposed by the project … Emergency vehicles also need access to Legacy House around the clock.”
A statement from the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), which is dedicated to “preserving, promoting, and developing the Seattle Chinatown-International District as a vibrant community and unique ethnic neighborhood,” also expressed concerns about vehicular access, quantity of parking, scale, and façade.
Defending the development
Developer and owner Han Kim told the Northwest Asian Weekly in an interview last December that he understood neighborhood concerns. “They are concerned about the bulk and scale of the project and the increase in traffic, once the project is completed. We are working on changing the façade to blend in with the neighboring buildings and setting back the building on higher levels, so the pedestrians won’t notice the size of the building so much. All of our parking needs will be handled within the building that will have valet service.”
In a more recent interview this month, addressing community concerns after review and community feedback, Kim said, “We are changing the first level design radically to accommodate the (review) board concern about having the public access on the ground level by shifting the check-in location to the underground level,” Kim said. “Not ideal for our customers as they will have difficulty finding the entrance, but life is all about compromises.”
Kim also argued the benefits of economic development. “Change is hard, but we should not be afraid of it. Progress can bring a lot of good things. Trying to stay put will eventually make you fall behind. As an immigrant in this great country of immigrants, I believe in changing and making things better. Progress and conservation are not necessarily an exclusive deal,” he said.
Kim, who is originally from Korea, personally plans to be an active part of the community. He plans to live with his family in the ID. “I am excited to live there with my extended family and enjoy local amenities in walking distances. Business and broader economic development-wise, I hope we will be profitable by providing more affordable housing to the people in Seattle and entice more travelers to come to the Chinatown-International District area.”
Tomio Moriguchi, owner of Uwajimaya, also welcomes development. “It is nice to know that the Seattle ID is viewed as a good area to invest in. Any area or community will wither away without ongoing quality investments. For sure the District can use a quality hotel project.”
In a public letter supporting the hotel, resident John Gissberg, who lives in the vicinity of the development, said that he was in support because there were no historical features in the area. “In the far Southeast corner of the ID, there are no historic values in the area, only the Village Square and Village Square II buildings and another one-story, grey concrete structure of no redeeming international flavor or Chinese/Japanese flavor equally in of razing.” Grissberg also feels the hotel will help improve the rundown reputation of the ID. “Though we don’t know anything about it yet, a new hotel should help block the air, noise, and visual pollution from the eight adjacent lanes of I-5 and, with staff employed all through the night, might help improve safety concerns and maybe discourage squatting in the entrances of nearby businesses.”
What happens next?
Initially, construction was to begin in the early summer of 2017 and take approximately 18 months, but the timeline is now indefinite, pending the review of application for construction and development.
“This review process has been a nightmare. So I don’t know when it will be over,” stated Kim.
Peggy can be reached at email@example.com.