2013 Congress of Cities Will Feature Transformation of Seattle's South Lake Union Neighborhood

July 8, 2013

By Shauna Larsen

Over the past two decades, Seattle's South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood, just north of Downtown, has undergone a significant transformation from an area of old warehouses, poor mobility, and a lack of public and private investment, into an emerging residential and employment center.

Home to Amazon.com, REI's flagship store, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the University of Washington-South Lake Union Campus, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, and a number of other biotechnology, information technology and global health entities, SLU is a dense, mixed-use urban neighborhood and a vital employment center within the City of Seattle.

Join leaders in the remaking of South Lake Union for a mobile workshop to explore the power of public-private partnerships in reinventing a neighborhood with dramatic results. This session will focus on the City's work with the private sector to create a hub for innovation, seeded with City policy and infrastructure investments. The transition of South Lake Union has not been without tension as gentrification often leads to conflict. The workshop will include a discussion of how the city worked with the neighborhood and business to address these tensions.

The city has used a variety of public investments and changes to land use in the area to spur economic development. The public investments include:

• Redevelopment and realignment of the Mercer Street Corridor, a major thoroughfare through the neighborhood
• Construction of the Seattle Streetcar South Lake Union line
• Investment in a new electrical substation by the city's municipally-owned public utility, Seattle City Light
• Development of a 12-acre park on the shores of the lake

The recent passage of a new zoning ordinance for the neighborhood will help to spur additional development in the neighborhood. The proposed rezoning will allow for 12,000 new housing units and 22,000 new jobs by the year 2031.

Changes to the zoning ordinance include:
• Replacing remaining industrial zoning with mixed use
• Increasing permitted building height throughout the neighborhood
• Establishing new development standards to ensure towers are well-spaced preserving openness to the sky and public views through the neighborhood
• Ensuring active public spaces
• Strengthening incentives to preserve landmark properties and existing open spaces
• Allowing developers to receive additional height and floor area through an incentive zoning program by transferring development rights from rural forest and farmlands

The South Lake Union neighborhood is just blocks from the Convention Center and served by the Seattle Streetcar. Mobile workshop participants will walk from the Convention Center to the Streetcar for a short ride to the South Lake Union Discovery Center. At the Discovery Center, participants will receive a brief overview of the neighborhood transformation. From there, participants will travel by Streetcar through the neighborhood with stops at some of the many entities that now call South Lake Union home.

Come see for yourself how a public investment in a neighborhood can spur economic development.

Mobile workshop details: Thursday, November 14 from noon to 3:00 PM. Tour will include a short walk from Convention Center to Streetcar for transportation through the neighborhood.

For additional details and registration information on the upcoming Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle, please visit our conference homepage