And, yes, I lament that it may soon go the way of the dodo bird with a new mid-rise, mixed-use building being designed and proposed for that site.
But we’ve got to stop whining!
Over the last few years it’s become a new Seattle ethos to whinge and mope collectively about every new development project that may replace an existing restaurant, coffee shop, bar or bookstore. In some cases, neighbors have even gone so far as to wage appeals and litigation in hopes of thwarting a development, almost invariably in vain. (Case in point: the battle against the proposal for an East Pine Street mixed-use project that would’ve demolished several popular bars, with the result that the demolition occurred but the building never materialized. Result: a vacant lot!)
I’m not any happier to see my favorite bar, coffee shop, restaurant or chocolaterie demolished, but all of these establishments are tenants within a transitory vessel. Unless the building has heritage value (and some do go on to landmark status), what we lament is the loss of the establishment, not so much the actual building.
What we’re losing sight of is that buildings are simply the current vessel for that beloved establishment — or one very similar to it in the future. Take the Dilettante cafe for example. While we all came to know and love that famous dessert dispensary at its old Broadway location, its former “vessel” wasn’t even demolished, yet the owners decided for a markedly ampler and more creative space up the street in the ground floor of the new Brix building — a building, I imagine which had and probably continues to have its detractors because it replaced a formerly beloved Safeway (?)!
The developers of the proposed new building on the B&O site have been very willing to meet and work with the neighbors and other concerned parties. An offer has even reportedly been made to the B&O owner to relocate that use within the new building. I’m sure if he accepts that offer, he will likely be invited to participate in the design development of the ground-floor space. There’s no guarantee he will accept new terms and likely higher rent, but the new building will indeed include new commercial space for a shop, bar, restaurant or similar use. And if not there, the B&O owner will likely set up shop in another of the many vacant spaces around the Hill or elsewhere.
We need to support responsible developers like these who are willing to engage the community, involve their design input and seek to become community partners. There are far too many corporate developer-machines out there that would never deign to be so participatory. They should receive our assistance, prodding and even constructive criticism, but not our opposition and obstructionism.
And I want to make a particular plug for this type of smaller-scale development. While even this project will encompass a few parcels, it represents the scale of development that should be encouraged. While certainly a hodgepodge, the prevailing fabric of the Capitol Hill urban form is still characterized by midrise buildings that span only a few small parcels. This module provides a more human-scale context that we are more comfortable inhabiting and approaching. Conversely, many large-scale developers take on massive sites, often comprising full city blocks. Even with the most adroit design maneuvers and city oversight, it’s quite a challenge to break down such large projects into human-scale modules that creative an attractive and comfortable street environment.
So in cases like the B&O site, where thoughtful, inclusive, smaller-scale developers propose larger, yet still human-scale development, we should do our best to encourage them — not without due design vigilance and participation — even if it may mean the relocation or reconstitution of a beloved establishment.