Industrial Zoning
10:18 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Development Planning For Sodo, Seattle's 'Gritty Backbone'

Sodo development is in the midst of tension between sports boosters and the maritime industry.
Credit Flickr Photo/ArtBrom (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The stadium district in Seattle is located at the northern end of a larger swath of the city that's officially known as the Duwamish Manufacturing and Industrial Center, but more commonly referred to as Sodo.

It’s the largest concentration of industrially zoned land in Seattle and home to Harbor Island, the largest container port facility in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the Seattle Seahawks, Sounders and Mariners teams.

Sports boosters are excited about the possibility of adding a professional basketball or hockey team, or both, to Sodo. They'd like to see restaurants and other nightlife venues built nearby, maybe even hotels and condos added to the mix.

But all of this bubbling enthusiasm for new development has raised the hackles of advocates for Seattle's thriving maritime industry.

Sodo's neighbor stadiums are home to three major sports teams.
Credit Flickr Photo/camknows (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Buffer Zones

Seattle Port Commissioner Tom Albro is leery of proposals for new restaurants and hotels near the seaport. "Industrial areas and businesses and these jobs, they're like a salmon stream," he explains. "They need buffer zones. They need to be given a bit a room, because they're not the kinds of things people want to live right up against."

In late 2013, the Seattle Planning Department found little support from maritime advocates like Albro when it released two sets of recommendations for land use in this part of the city.

On the one hand, the documents reiterated that industry is the priority for the Duwamish industrial zone. But planners also suggested that the northern part of this area could possibly take some residential construction to provide market-rate housing for adjacent Pioneer Square.

The city also recommended that hotel construction be allowed throughout the Duwamish zone. Currently, hotel development is specifically outlawed in the sports stadium district.

Sodo's Port of Seattle is home to a robust maritime industry.
Credit Flickr Photo/SLV Native (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Industrial Branding

Seattle Planning Department Director Marshall Foster admitted these recommendations were not well received by Port of Seattle supporters.

He said the city has to balance industrial needs with the push for a healthy and livable downtown. But he wants to preserve Seattle's industrial base as well.

Foster used to work in San Francisco, which pushed most industry across the bay to Oakland. And Foster said maritime is something that really resonates with Seattle citizens. "It's so close to our history, and our identity as a city. It's the blue collar, gritty backbone of what Seattle is."

The containers that come through Harbor Island bring in every kind of good you could imagine, said Seattle-based writer and maritime historian Joe Follansbee

Harbor Island itself is ringed by supporting businesses — private shippers, marine supply and repair shops — and by the roads that trucks use to bring the containers to and from the seaport. Marine shipping is a multi-billion dollar annual business that provides solid middle class jobs for thousands of people.

Seattle skyline and Harbor Island from Port of Seattle's Jack Block park.
Credit KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

"It's an important piece of what we do," Follansbee said. "We just don't hear about it enough, because it's not as sexy as a new phone in your pocket."

That's because maritime shipping doesn't carry an identifiable brand, like Seattle's other mega industries: Starbucks, Microsoft or Amazon. Foster said cities like Chicago and New York have been working on new ways to brand their local industries to market to citizens and potential customers alike. Seattle, too, is investigating how to jump on that industrial marketing bandwagon.

In the meantime, the Seattle City Council said it won't take immediate action on the planning department recommendations for the Duwamish industrial area. But starting this month, Foster and his planners will begin presenting their ideas to the council and to interested citizens and industry stakeholders.

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