Seattle’s monorail project may be stalled, but the city’s recent green light for a 2.6-mile streetcar line linking the central business district with South Lake Union, a former industrial area to the north, seems likely to cement momentum driving the SLU’s transformation. The city estimates 14 million sq ft of commercial and residential development between 2001 and 2020. Click here to view images

"The pace of the transformation now going on is really breathtaking," says Marty McOmber, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickel, who signed the streetcar bill into law on July 7. "It seems like a tipping point has been reached."

The city has formally designated the area as an urban center targeted to receive 8,000 residential units and 16,000 jobs over the next 15 years. Already, 2.6 million sq ft has been developed or is under construction, says Michael Mann, deputy director of the city’s office of policy and management. The city expects another 5 million sq ft of development by 2010. About 60% of the square footage is commercial and retail and 40% is residential.

Philanthropist and developer Paul Allen, whose Seattle-based company Vulcan Inc. owns 60 prime acres in the roughly 250-acre district, has been spearheading the revitalization since 1996, despite SLU’s rundown infrastructure. Vulcan, which also developed the Experience Music Project nearby and the Seahawks football stadium, has long-range plans for 10 million sq ft of development. Of the first dozen projects totaling 3 million sq ft, five are finished, two are under way and two more containing 750,000 sq ft are set to begin construction this year. The final three have no start-up dates.

All but 10% of the 261 condominiums in Vulcan’s 2200 Westlake Avenue, slated for early 2006 completion, sold out within a month of offering. As Vulcan’s first "for-sale" project, "we were not sure how it would do," says Allison Jeffries, Vulcan’s real estate manager.

SLU, just east of the Space Needle, is the last under-developed large tract downtown. With the streetcar, other planned street realignments and a lakefront park, the city aims to undo damage caused by construction of Interstate 5 and State Route 99 in the 1960s, which isolated the area.

The $47-million streetcar, set to be ready by fall of 2007, did not have everyone’s vote. "There’s the perception [it] is designed just to benefit [Allen’s] projects," says Phyllis Shulman, legislative assistant to council member Richard Conlin.

"The area is already attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment," says city council member Peter Steinbrueck, who notes there are infrastructure needs in SLU more deserving of scarce funds.

A special landowner tax will fund half of the streetcar’s cost. That means Vulcan will provide nearly $15 million toward the job (ENR 7/11 p. 23).