The C Is for Crank

The pro-McGinn Stranger has a new argument against a proposed Whole Foods-anchored apartment development, which would replace a car lot, a funeral home, and a gas station in West Seattle with 370 new apartments (AKA density): The developer that wants to build it, Weingarten Realty, is (gasp!) from out of town. For that reason, their post concludes, Weingarten may not have "the best interests of Seattle at heart."

"These are companies in the business of making money, not making friends," David Goldstein writes. (Again: Knock me over with a feather.)

Provincial attacks on out-of-towners aside, the Stranger's hero McGinn himself has made a legitimate campaign issue out of the Whole Foods proposal, opposing an alley vacation for the development because Whole Foods isn't unionized and, he says, doesn't pay "livable" wages. (Whole Foods says its wages will start at $11 an hour; the Stranger dismisses that claim because the private company hasn't released its wage data.)

After arguing that the city should oppose the apartment building because Weingarten isn't from here (paging Chris Hansen), the urbanist, pro-development Stranger goes full-on preservationist and NIMBY, arguing that Weingarten is a bad actor because they've redeveloped historic structures and angered single-family neighbors.

Look, I'm pals with Goldstein—he's my South End comrade and gardening advisor! But he's way off base here.

McGinn's proposed arena would have been built by a "multi-billion-dollar out-of-state developer"—San Francisco hedge-fund manager, and billionaire, Chris Hansen.

First, Goldstein expresses outrage that Weingarten "stripped murals" from a "historic 1930s theater" in Houston. Not only is that description inaccurate—the building hasn't been a theater for decades (it was a bookstore for 25 years and it's been a Trader Joe's since 2009), and the "murals" were actually a single wall painting inside the grocery store, taken down when Weingarten did structural upgrades—the pro-preservation argument is pretty rich coming from the Stranger. They have a record of mocking preservationists (see: the B&O Espresso building; an old sign that someone stole in Ballard; efforts to fight billboards on buildings downtown; the Rainier Club; the Ballard Denny's.)

Then, Goldstein makes a similar case against another Weingarten redevelopment in Houston: a "classic Art Deco building" he says the company turned into a "generic looking shopping center." That description, again, is inaccurate—the changes were to a single-story strip mall made up mostly of parking. It was, and remains, a strip mall. It was ugly then, and it's slightly uglier now. (Before and after here).

Then, Goldstein reports that residents of Houston's River Oaks neighborhood—the seventh-richest single-family enclave in the nation (talk about fertile ground for NIMBYs!)—compared Weingarten to "the devil" for redeveloping the strip mall. While I certainly agree the changes weren't for the better, it's odd to see the Stranger, a paper that opposes NIMBYism—and rightly so—even more often than it opposes historic preservation, uncritically repeating a melodramatic statement by a wealthy Texas NIMBY.

Another of Goldstein's examples of Weingarten's nefariousness—a Wal-Mart Weingarten proposed in exurban College Station, Texas—actually (contrary to Goldstein's claim that Weingarten's "relentless pursuit of self-interest" enabled them to steamroll the city) never got built; the city settled with Weingarten and the company leased the land to a hospital.

I know everyone hates Wal-Mart, but if the developer you're hating on never actually built a Wal-Mart, it's pretty weird to criticize them for ... building a Wal-Mart. In the end, Wal-Mart expanded another store nearby.

Heather Weiner, spokeswoman for the anti-Whole Foods group Getting It Right for West Seattle,  agrees with the Stranger. She told us: "The city officials in other places who have dealt with Weingarten seemed pretty unhappy with them, according to their quotes and the articles. Calling a company the 'devil' is pretty strong language in Texas."

McGinn, for his part, hasn't identified "out-of-towner" as a deal-breaker for companies seeking to build in Seattle. 

And no wonder: His proposed arena (which the Stranger strongly backed) would have been built by another "multi-billion-dollar out-of-state developer," as the paper describes Weingarten—San Francisco hedge-fund manager, and billionaire, Chris Hansen.


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