By Danny Westneat, April 23, 2013, Seattle Times
Chris Hansen has a nice riff he uses to show that his proposed basketball arena won’t destroy the working-class soul of Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood.
It’s about how when he bought up a batch of industrial buildings down there, he was surprised at who his new tenants turned out to be.
“We have a vodka distillery, a T-shirt manufacturer, a video- game startup company, a butcher shop, a doggy day care and … a cannabis dispensary. People should just keep this in mind,” Hansen said in a Seattle Times online chat last year.
His point: Sodo is already well on its way to being as yuppified as Fremont. So what’s all the blue-collar fuss about?
It’s a fair point. Sodo is changing. But with his idea of also installing an L.A. Live-style entertainment district around the arena getting more attention, I figured now would be as good a time as any to rebut it.
Hansen’s arena site does house what sounds more like one-stop shopping for hipsters (though he did leave out the largest business there, United Warehouses, which has been storing, forklifting and trucking stuff since 1948.)
But the worry about an entertainment district with restaurants and condos is what it might displace from the entire area, not just the arena lot.
So I went down there to see if Hansen’s portrayal is accurate.
Not really. Did you know Seattle has an industrial sewing and textiles district? I didn’t. But there it is, right around Hansen’s lots.
There’s Commercial Fabrics Manufacturing, which has been sewing uniforms for hospitals, prison guards and cops since 1975. There’s the corporate-apparel warehouse Incentives by Design. There’s STT Sports Lettering, embroiderer of sports uniforms since 1982.
A few blocks east is Filson, maker of lumberjack clothing since 1897. Yes, that’s 1897. Filson got its start dressing the miners for the Alaskan Gold Rush.
In between these little factories are all manner of food-distribution warehouses, hydraulic-equipment shops and metal and pipe fabricators. Some have been there 75 years. Some are so rough their signs are spray-painted on plywood.
I wandered up the back of a random loading dock into yet another textile shop, Alchemy Goods. It started eight years ago when Eli Reich, in his basement, stitched a messenger bag out of rubber salvaged from used bike inner tubes.
Now he’s got a dozen workers making rubber belts, wallets and backpacks in a tiny factory directly across the street from the arena site. So far they’ve “upcycled” more than 300,000 inner tubes.
“We’re not making airplanes,” Reich says. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t a manufacturer.”
Reich says if the entertainment-district dream is fulfilled, he’d likely have to move. Along with most of the rest of his industry.
“The beauty of Sodo is that it’s like a business incubator, a place with cheaper industrial rents where people like me can get a foothold,” he said.
“The question for Seattle is, what kind of jobs do we want in this city? Replacing local people who make local products with sports and entertainment is not a good long-term vision for the city.”
Reich says we can have it all — manufacturers could coexist with an arena, as they do now with the baseball and football stadiums. But not with this other idea of hotels and condos.
“You can’t have condos and an industrial work environment, together,” he said.
I agree. Don’t the condo overlords control enough of the city already?
I support bringing back the NBA. But the idea of turning surrounding blocks, especially to the south or west where the Port is, into an L.A. Live glitz district ought to be sent back where it came from. The city, as a condition for final approval of the arena, ought to just zone it out of existence.
Because Reich is right. What kind of jobs do we want in this city? At the least we ought to be trying to keep some of the ones we’ve had since the 1800s.
We don’t need to make “Sodo Live.” It already is.