In July 2012, the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District and the Washington State Public Stadium Authority co-issued a report on the future of the immediate area surrounding the stadiums. This ten year plan took into account the changes happening along the waterfront and in Pioneer Square, the International District and SoDo. The plan envisions residential, hotel, office, restaurant and retail development along Occidental and First Avenue, with Occidental becoming a pedestrian focused thoroughfare. While there is quite a bit of pie in the sky features mentioned, others such as for Occidental and First have some plausibility. Primarily, even without a grand plan, the area is evolving, on game days at least, into a gritty, informal entertainment district.
Beyond what the report mentioned, I’d add two fan friendly features that could be added to the area now. Given the plethora of empty office space and that many of the teams it covers call SoDo home, ROOT Sports would do well to move their offices and studio to this district. A ground level studio that could be viewed from the sidewalk would certainly draw attention and spectators. And, with all the teams and fans in one area, a sports museum/hall of fame that is open year round and independent of whether an event is taking place in one of the stadiums would fit well. The Mariners are the only team that has anything like a museum in their stadium. Of course, there’s plenty of Sonics memorabilia that probably fits better in a place like this rather than the Museum of History & Industry. The Mariners, and Seahawks and Sounders for that matter, could continue to have their in stadium display while being encouraged to make items available to a wider audience outside the stadium. A new arena with new teams right next door to the current stadiums would only strengthen the argument for these two features being added to the district.
It’s noteworthy that the Mariners are supportive of this draft concept plan, considering that for so long they have been perceived as anti-development around Safeco Field. The Seahawks and Sounders support is in line with previous public statements regarding growth in the area. Even if only half the plan became reality, it would substantially change the area around the stadiums. After looking at the concept, it’s easier to see how Chris Hansen and Co. could be viewing their mini entertainment district around the proposed arena as simply an extension of the concept plan another two blocks south to connect Safeco and the arena. Additionally, the arena location falls within the proposed Stadium District boundary. That the Mariners would support the concept plan, but not Hansen’s arena, is a little odd, as it seemingly would help to increase foot traffic, patrons of the entertainment district establishments and the property values near the stadiums.
The port has valid issues. It’s inevitable that growth will happen in SoDo as property values increase in the area while it simultaneously becomes one of the last areas left near downtown that can be built out. A buffer of stadiums and related establishments separating the port from South Lake Union-like gentrification of SoDo is a better option than residential and office building across the street from the port.
I’m surprised this report didn’t get more media attention when it was released last summer. I didn’t come across it until a few months ago. Given the discussion surrounding the arena, port and SoDo, one would think this report would get a re-airing. It makes for fun reading and provokes thinking about not just the stadium district, but its neighbors as well.