Chinatown business owners fighting for new street car line

by: David Ham Updated:

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SEATTLE —

Business owners in the Chinatown- International District sent a letter to Seattle City Council members, imploring them to approve a resolution to build the new Center City Connector street car line.

"I am writing you on this Sunday afternoon concerning the future of the Chinatown-International District and our connection to Downtown Seattle," wrote Don Blakeney of the Chinatown International Business District. "We implore you and your colleagues on the Council to not delay the vote on the Center City Connector any further, and pass the resolution as-is.  As you are aware, Council approval is essential for Seattle to be eligible for the $75 million in Federal funding in 2016 -- which is really the only way this connector could be funded at this point.  This connector is critical for the future economic prosperity of our business district, which has only recently begun to recover from the recession and impacts of the First Hill Streetcar construction.

City Council  members are set to vote on the resolution on Monday afternoon. The new line would connect the First Hill Street Car to the South Lake Union Line.

Taylor Hoang owns several restaurants in the city and her family has a restaurant in Little Saigon.

She said during the construction of the First Hill line, her family's business suffered because of all of the construction.

The new Center City Connector was seen as a silver lining to her business and others in the area. By connecting Chinatown/International District to the rest of the city, businesses were hoping to cash in on a direct line for tourists from Pike Place Market to visit the area. It's estimated 9 million tourists visit Pike Place Market every year.

"The Chinatown-ID has just endured 2.5 years of non-stop disruption-during which the neighborhood saw a serious decline in revenues for local, family run and ethnic businesses. The City not only tore up the streets of the neighborhood, but also located the transit’s maintenance facility in our District with no public engagement, which brought even more disruption and permanent impacts to Eighth Avenue, with all of the medical and senior facilities that are on that corridor.  Throughout the duration of this disruption, the city (at various levels) continually pointed to the connection through downtown as the silver lining to these impacts," Blakeney added, "Deciding to not build the locally preferred alternative would in effect be a broken promise to the Chinatown-International District, which has been told repeatedly, for the last three mayoral administrations, that a First Avenue streetcar would connect us to the Pike Place Market and the rest of downtown.  In 2009, there was a letter of intent signed by the Nickels Administration, the legislature and governor to use mitigation funds for the viaduct to pay for a First Avenue streetcar."

If the City Council does not approve the resolution, the city would not get to apply for a $75 million grant that could help fund the project.

Council member Nick Licata has concerns about the funding of the project. He said it may be too expensive.

 "Given the limited availability of public funding for transportation at almost every level of government, the city must consider electric trolley bus service for First Avenue or for connecting the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines, so that we do not miss out on an option that can provide comparable service for a substantially reduced cost. Since there was no information presented to the Transportation Committee comparing these modes, it seems it was never adequately considered. That is why I've asked SDOT for more information about this option," said Licata in an opinion piece published on Crosscut.

Blakeney said an electronic trolley bus service would be too confusing for tourists.

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