The Seattle City Council holds a second hearing Wednesday on the proposed Business Improvement Area for Sodo. Council members should think twice before approving this.
BIAs are taxing districts created by the city after a petition of landowners. In retail districts BIAs build parking garages, decorate public areas, paint out graffiti, give directions to tourists and market the area to visitors. But Sodo, the area immediately south of downtown, is not that sort of district.
Sodo is mostly a commercial supply, workshop and transportation district. The offices of Seattle Schools and Starbucks are there, but as exceptions: Sodo does not have the parks, sidewalks, safe rail crossings, bus service and property values an office district implies.
For several years there has been a push by some investors to transform it into one. One is immigration attorney Henry Liebman, who has become a major Sodo landowner. He has artfully used the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, under which his clients invest $500,000 in real estate partnership units and qualify for U.S. permanent-resident visas. The clients are buying because of the visa but their money pushes up the value of the land, an effect not welcomed by many of the area’s users.
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One of them is Jodi Opitz, who owns a music rehearsal and recording space on First Avenue South. She examined the landowner signatures petitioning for the Sodo BIA and counted Liebman’s name 42 times. At the city council hearing Sept. 4, she testified that 58 percent of the petition’s signatures for the BIA were from 10 people, all of them with interests in development.
She fears that a BIA would be used to promote Sodo for investments that will transform it into something other than the gritty and useful place it is now.
That is a reasonable concern. The Port of Seattle, which wants maritime and industrial lands to be protected, has asked the city council to slow down. The Port says the BIA’s backers appear not to be representative of the businesses there. The Duwamish area’s Manufacturing Industrial Council is also skeptical.
The city council should not give this proposal a perfunctory “yes” simply because it has enough signatures.