South Lake Union: A developing area
The South Lake Union area has played a vital role in the city of Seattle since the city's early days. Originally, Lake Union was 1/3 larger than its current size; a small bay extended south down to the current Mercer Street with a stream flowing along the current Boren Avenue. But as industry and development grew in the late 1800's, a sawmill in the South Lake Union area provided the sawdust to shore up the bay along the southwest corner of the lake eliminating the bay from jutting out into the growing downtown area.
The Montlake cut and the completion of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks made the water journey from Lake Washington through Lake Union to Elliott Bay a reality. After years of construction on both sides of north Lake Union, the canal was officially finished in 1934.
Another quick transportation route - this time by car - played another key role South Lake Union's future. In the 1950's and 60's Seattle area residents wanted a fast and easy way to get from downtown to the growing residential suburbs. The creation of Aurora Avenue and the Alaskan Way Viaduct to the west of the area and the development of Interstate 5 in the 1960's to the east locked the South Lake Union area into place. With the booming of downtown and outlaying areas, South Lake Union became a traffic clogged industrial area with a few scattered residents. The neighborhood extends from Denny Way to the South, to Lake Union to the North; and I-5 to the East and Aurora Avenue to the West.
Bringing nature back to Lake Union
In the mid 1990's, a citizen initiative was launched to reclaim the South Lake Union area. The proposal to create "The Commons" - a park through the neighborhood to downtown Seattle was presented twice to city voters. Both times it was rejected. But the seed was planted; bring the South Lake Union Area back to its natural beauty for residents to enjoy and create a diverse, economically successful area.
Over the next few years, the city of Seattle worked to acquire several acres of land in the area including the Naval Armory and the open space surrounding it for a total of 12 acres along south side of Lake Union creating the South Lake Union Park. The passage of the Pro Parks Levy in 2000 put the development of Seattle parks and open spaces at the forefront of the city's priorities. And the South Lake Union area was on the list for a major renovation.
Mayor Greg Nickels unveiled a South Lake Union Action Agenda in March, 2003. His plans would facilitate building a biotechnology hub in the area and creating new jobs to fuel growth in the city's economy. Specifically, his plans include:
- Attracting biotechnology jobs to South Lake Union area using current biotechnology firms in the area as an anchor.
- Creating a South Lake Union Park on the waterfront
- Building a streetcar connecting Downtown Seattle to South Lake Union
- Creating as many as 20,000 new good-paying jobs in South Lake Union. This number was determined by a real estate consultant hired by the city using a standard formula to calculate number of workers based on square foot of office space. A December 2003 report, Potential Economic and Fiscal Impacts of South Lake Union Development by Paul Sommers, PhD [Full Text pdf_463kb], puts the potential jobs number at 32,000 by 2025.
For more information on the South Lake Union Park design,
visit the park's development site.
Traffic troubles that plague the area - commonly known as the 'Mercer Mess' - are also on the Mayor's agenda. An estimated 86,000 cars travel daily between I-5 and the Seattle Center. Nickels wants to see Mercer Street become a two-way street with financing coming from a Mercer corridor regional transportation funding plan.
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Construction work along Streetcar route
Seattle's newest transportation tactic is causing some traffic tie-ups for motorists. Construction for the South Lake Union Streetcar is underway.
Crews will be closing Virginia Street between Westlake Avenue and 6th Street to install some equipment needed for the streetcar October 14 and 15. Rail installation along Fairview Avenue North between Yale and Valley Street is expected to start in late October. Crews had previously closed part of Fairview Avenue North to dig a shallow trench for the rail line.
The $50.5 million project will feature three streetcars that run from the South Lake Union area to downtown Seattle. The 1.3 mile line will feature several stops every two or three blocks. Electronic reader boards will alert riders to when the next streetcar is scheduled to arrive at their stop.
Drivers in the area can expect more delays and detours through out the year as crews continue the utility work and installation of the streetcar line. The streetcar is expected to be up and running by fall 2007.
South Lake Union - an urban center
City Council members voted unanimously on July 17 to designate South Lake Union as an urban center. The designation marks the sixth for the city of Seattle and the 16th for King County. The designation also makes the area eligible for transportation funds from the Puget Sound Regional Council.
City and state leaders have already started working to combat the traffic troubles plaguing the South Lake Union area. On July 7, the city broke ground on the South Lake Union Streetcar track construction. The streetcar will run 1.3 miles each direction from South Lake Union Park and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to the Westlake Center. An estimated 330,000 rider's will use the streetcar annually. The streetcar will provide alternative transportation to residents, workers and tourists in the area looking to get downtown. About half of the estimated $50.5 million dollar construction cost will be financed by a Local Improvement District from area businesses. Federal, state and other local funds will pick up the rest of the tab. Watch the South Lake Union Streetcar press conference.
Nickels announced his plan to get transportation back on track in the city of Seattle. In late May, Nickels unveiled his $1.8 billion road tax package that would fund nearly 30 years and $500 million in backlog in street maintenances.
Nickels "Bridging the Gap" proposal would go before voters on the November ballot. Funds from the proposal include fixing the Mercer corridor.
Construction is underway for both the South Lake Union Park and the streetcar track. The park is scheduled to open in late 2008 or early 2009.
City Council members are reviewing Nickels transportation tax plan. They are expected to vote on changes to the plan later this summer. It'll go before Seattle voters in November.
If you have any questions or comments on this article, or if you have an In-Depth story idea, contact Megan Erb at email@example.com.
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