Property Developers Are Starting to Eye the International District

Will an onslaught of new buildings overrun one of Seattle’s most historic and diverse neighborhoods?

By Darren Davis June 12, 2017 Published in the July 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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On the weekend of July 15, the Chinatown–International District hosts Dragon Fest to celebrate the cultures that established one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. But soon, a new community may enter the picture: affluent young professionals.

That’s because a new streetcar and an increasingly popular light rail, plus swaths of available real estate close to downtown, have turned the district into a fresh opportunity for developers. 

“It’s like we’ve just been discovered,” says Teresita Batayola, CEO of International Community Health Services, which provides care for Asian and Pacific Islander patients in the neighborhood. Walk a few blocks from ICHS, she says, and you’ll notice the proposed land use signs. There are currently six mixed-use developments in the approval process—and one on the way—with the International Special Review District, which upholds the neighborhood preservation code. 

Batayola’s office is across the street from one of the more controversial projects: the SpringHill Suites Marriott, a 14-story hotel and market-rate condominium. 

Many in the neighborhood fear the new development will make the surrounding area less hospitable for longtime residents by increasing traffic and competition for parking spaces. This includes short-term parking used by patients at ICHS, many of whom are elderly. The proposed building will also cast a literal shadow over the Donnie Chin International Children’s Park, named for the beloved late community advocate.

Though there are design concerns, a new hotel may bring certain positive changes to the neighborhood, says Shanti Breznau, business developer at Hing Hay Coworks and the Bush Hotel. She believes many local businesses could benefit from a rotation of new neighbors. “Tourists eat out for every meal, and this is a restaurant district.”

While new development seems inevitable, there’s more than one way to approach it, says Miye Moriguchi, development manager at Uwajimaya, which opened the Publix in 2016. The formerly decrepit hotel now houses 125 apartment units—20 percent deemed affordable housing—all while preserving the historic building and blending into the surrounding blocks. As for the retail space, the Publix will soon be home to Dough Zone and Great State Burger, both local businesses Moriguchi believes will be a welcome addition. “The neighborhood,” she says, “is evolving.”

Updated June 12 and 13, 2017. This corrects the personal pronoun associated with Shanti Breznau and better reflects her position on the hotel project.

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