Let the work begin!

The shovels told the tale. Work has begun on the Broadway & Pine Apartments. More than two-and-a-half years after community outcry drastically altered the course of a proposed development on the corner of Broadway and East Pine Street, an official groundbreaking last week announced that the physical work is ready to begin.

The site of a former gas station immediately east of the Egyptian Theatre and across the street from Seattle Central Community College, the prominent location might well have become a generic Walgreens store. That more than 100 people came to the Wednesday, Oct. 12, groundbreaking signaled relief and satisfaction that the project will be a great deal more.

When complete, the development will consist of a street-level Walgreens store with underground parking. Above the retail space will be 44 units of affordable housing, units that will be owned and operated by Capitol Hill Housing (formerly the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program). Nine of the units will be reserved for homeless households transitioning to their own homes. Fifty spaces of parking will be split on two levels, one for Walgreens, the other for the apartments.

Construction will begin by the end of this month. The Walgreens store is expected to open in roughly one year, with the apartments slated for completion by the end of 2007.

Chip Ragen spoke to the crowd and reflected on the Early Design Review meeting in February 2003:

"So many committed community members were there and said, 'wait a minute'" to the idea of a stand-alone Walgreens.

"It's more than just how many units we can fit on a piece of ground," said Chuck Weinstock, Capitol Hill Housing's executive director. "It's about community values, pedestrian space, strong mixed-use and a strong anchor retailer."

Weinstock added that the project will incorporate more "green building" elements, an unusual goal for an affordable housing project.

"The community said that we want something more," noted Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. "We have a dense, urban neighborhood here. We need to thank Walgreens for thinking out of the box. And thanks to the community leaders who said 'we can do better.'"

By all accounts, the Early Design Review meeting was instrumental in the evolution of the project. Developer Scott Grainger spoke of being contacted by Walgreens in 2002 to develop a new, stand-alone store. The design he presented in early 2003 drew an immediate, negative response. A generic store, one that could just as easily be dropped down in Northgate or Lynnwood, did not gain favor. Grainger learned that the Pike-Pine community favored density, mixed-use projects with great transparency, pedestrian and street appeal, as well as affordable housing. The neighborhood plan officially encourages these elements. And many people were present to express this point of view in no uncertain terms.

"I was surprised at the time, but I took it all in," Grainger said of the neighborhood's comments. "They had a clear understanding of what direction they wanted a project to take. I promised to take that information back to Walgreens and convey what the community wanted. Walgreens had never done a ground-up, mixed-use project before."

Combining a Walgreens store with an affordable housing component was a huge challenge, he said, but also a huge opportunity.

"I welcome this project as the future of where urban retail is going," he said.

Such glowing talk is probably not out of place.

In order for this project to get off the ground a large number of factors had to line up. A large contingent of community members had to attend the Early Design Review meeting and voice their concerns in no uncertain terms. The developer had to listen to those concerns and respond accordingly. A large, national retailer had to pay attention and be willing to dramatically change course from the way it typically develops new stores. (It's been noted that the company's willingness to do so was perhaps aided by a negative community reaction to the Walgreens on 15th Avenue East, a store that opened a month before the Broadway-Pine store was first announced.)

In addition, getting Capitol Hill Housing on board required taking additional time in order to design the new project and arrange for financing. The organization, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, operates more than 1,000 units of affordable housing, mostly on Capitol Hill.

In order for the project to work, it had to satisfy the diverse needs of Walgreens, the developer and Capitol Hill Housing. For the neighborhood, it means a prominent and under-utilized intersection will end up with a notable project that addresses its goals, reflects its input and meets with community approval.

"This project is really a win-win," said Grainger. "I was confident it would turn out, but getting to this day is a real achievement for everyone."

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com or 461-1308.

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