By Assunta Ng and Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Developers will be able to upzone buildings one to three stories higher than previously allowed in the Chinatown/International District (CID), while creating affordable housing units at the same time.
On Aug. 2, Mayor Ed Murray, joined by business owners and community advocates, signed Seattle City Council Bill (CB) 118959 into law. The measure was unanimously passed by City Council this week, and is related to land use and rezoning certain land in the CID. In its current incarnation, it will implement Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements aimed at maintaining and preserving the neighborhood’s economic and cultural vitality, as well as dictate low-income housing requirements to combat displacement.
There is a proposed development under review at 616 8th Avenue South, by Hotel Concepts, which 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. Hotel Concepts purchased the site in 2014 for $4.5 million.
Ben Chen, owner of Vital Tea Shop, said it’s important to make ID look nice. “I invest money to make my tea shop look good. Those old, dirty, and broken buildings are not going to enhance the image of the ID. It will just encourage more homeless and drug addicts to take over the building. If no one wants to come here, it will be the end of the ID. I applaud those who want to build a hotel in the ID. It will bring new energy and new life.”
Faye Hong, former owner of the House of Hong and leader of two Chinatown organizations, is for the hotel. “We need a hotel here.”
A leader of the Yee Family Association, Fred Yee said, “There are both sides, pros and cons. I hope they can negotiate and work something out.”
When upzoning was first considered in April 2017, critics were concerned that increased development would drive up rents in the CID, thereby displacing low- to median-income residents. As reported in the Northwest Asian Weekly, an informal survey conducted and sent to the International Special District Review Board (Seattle Department of Neighborhoods) stated, “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.”
Requests for comment from the CID Coalition (also called Humbows Not Hotels), a group previously reported to be concerned about the area’s displacement when it comes to development, were not returned by this report’s deadline.
Chinese-speaking residents in the CID were interviewed last week and most stated they welcome the development of a hotel.
Nora Chan, founder of the Seniors in Action, said, “I approve the idea of having a new hotel. The seniors who went don’t understand what’s going on, they have been misled. The hotel owner and developer is working with the Marriott, which is a big hotel. It has a good security system and a big parking facility. This project will only help, not hurt Chinatown.” Chan also lives in Chinatown.
Business owners, including chiropractor Xiao Ming, Jimmy Leung, owner of Young House store, and Anna Hou, owner of Global Travel in Chinatown, said they welcome the idea of a hotel in the ID. “It will definitely lift up the area,” Hou said.
“I am more than happy to see hotels or condos in our community and the reasons are to get more people in the area and it helps business too,” said Y. Ku, who lives and works in the ID. “We all worry a lot for the increased criminal element and it’s out of control since the tent city crisis.” Ku said he worries more now with the recent opening of the Navigation Center.
Dennis Ho, another resident and a restaurant worker, said, “The hotel is a great idea. I don’t understand why people oppose it. It would be great if I can get a job there and walk across the street, to go to work.”
If the hotel project were to be developed, existing structures (which previously housed King’s Hookah Lounge and Reprographics) would be demolished. The new building will be a SpringHill Suites by Marriott.
Auntie Peng (Qiu Feng Peng), who is active among seniors, and a resident of International House, said, “I like having a hotel on the 8th Avenue South. We don’t have a decent hotel in the ID. Having a hookah bar there is not good for the community. When friends and relatives visit us, it would be convenient for them to stay in the hotel.”
“I know some people want to preserve old buildings in the ID, we have enough of those buildings, don’t we?” she added. “Counting all the family associations and several of them around South King Street, we have more than 10. We need development in the ID for prosperity.”
In July 2015, Donnie Chin, director of the International District Emergency Center, was killed at Eighth Avenue South and South Lane Street, an unintended casualty during what was later deemed a gang-related incident.
Another CID resident, Mrs. Zhu, said, “Since the shooting of Donnie Chin around the hookah bar, I and my good friend (another resident), have been avoiding that part of the ID. We are scared to go there because it might not be safe.”
The ones who will be the most impacted by the proposed hotel may be the residents who live at the building at 721 South Lane Street, across the street from the proposed hotel site. Cindy Lee, who has lived in the building for a decade, said, “Since the killing of Donnie Chin, we (our kids and I) are scared to walk outside at night. … The hotel will be so much better than a hookah bar.”
Other residents including Kit Wah Leung, a retired garment worker, said she likes the hotel idea, as “it will bring prosperity to the area. The street is too quiet and dark early at night. It’s nice to have more people walking in the area with the new hotel.”
Yu Xia Li and her husband, residents of the CID, learned about the hotel and its opposition from reading the Seattle Chinese Post. They said they were surprised that someone would oppose it. “After ICHS (International Community Health Service) closes around 6:30 p.m., there aren’t any emergency services. …With a new hotel, it will attract new tourists and new life to the area.”
Ling Chinn, property owner, agreed. “I am for the hotel because we need more young people and families to come to the ID. We have too much low-income housing and an old population in the neighborhood. A hotel will bring more new visitors to the ID.”
Since April, CB 118959 has been amended multiple times to address these kinds of concerns. Under the bill, developers are required to devote 5-8 percent of their projects to affordable housing or pay $20.75 per square foot. Also, in some cases, rental housing must remain affordable for 75 years.
According to “Implementation of Mandatory Housing Affordability Requirements in the Chinatown/International District — Director’s Report,” most of the floor area in the CID is used for commercial purposes. The area had a residential population of 3,466 people in 2010 and this population is significantly more diverse, lower-income, and older than the population of Seattle as a whole. About 57 percent of residents identified as Asian, 95 percent are renters with an average household size of 1.44 people, and a medium age of 52 (compared to 35 citywide).
Ken Okamoto, a property owner, said, “I understand some folks don’t like the idea of a hotel in the ID and they support the need to preserve our culture. But what is our culture? What are we preserving? Do we enjoy rundown buildings lining streets where very little excitement or life happens? I think we all want more than that. I think we want a healthy mix of new and old. Personally, I would like a vibrant ID — a destination for people to spend quality time with friends and family. The empty windows staring down at me from rundown buildings doesn’t do it for me. The addition of a new hotel means more life, more business for local restaurants and shops, and more opportunities. Where do you think all the people staying in the hotel will eat and shop? A hotel will provide more business and life for our ID community and needed jobs for people who live here.”
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.