The shop and gallery, KOBO at Higo, located in the historic Higo Variety store has been a cornerstone of the Chinatown International District for nearly a century. In 1942, the state forced Higo’s original owners, the Murakamis, into a Japanese incarceration camp and their business shut its doors for three years.
During the closure, Japanese families incarcerated during World War II used Higo to store belongings. Since then, Higo’s owners have taken on a multigenerational task to protect the community’s legacy. They, and many of our Chinatown International District (CID) family-owned small businesses, have faced multiple challenges over the years that Seattleites now see as deeply unjust.
Yet, once again, our CID small businesses are under threat, this time by Sound Transit’s proposal to build a new light rail station at Fourth Avenue South as part of the West Seattle-to-Ballard extension.
For small businesses like KOBO at Higo, the construction would mean a decade of disruption and uncertainty. And, even if some businesses survive the upheaval, we have no guarantee they will afford the skyrocketing rent and property values that inevitably follow in the wake of gentrification.
The authors of a recent Seattle Times Op-Ed would have you believe that a majority of the CID support a new light rail station at Fourth Avenue South and South Jackson Street. [“Don’t skip Chinatown International District in light rail extension,” Opinion, Feb. 23]. And that we don’t have workable alternatives. Both are untrue.
As part of a coalition of small businesses, low-income residents, elders, longtime community leaders, and nonprofits serving the CID, we call instead for new station location options just north and south of the CID that serve equally well, if not better. These alternatives minimize disruption in the heart of the CID, offer similar regional connectivity, and could spur hundreds of community-owned affordable housing units.
More than100 CID stakeholders and organizations have signed a letter to Sound Transit in support of the north and south alternatives’ station locations.
The good news is that Sound Transit is studying both alternatives. The CID north option would be at Yesler Way and Fourth Avenue South, and would connect by tunnel to the nearby Pioneer Square light rail station. The CID south option would be (roughly) at South Dearborn Street and Sixth Avenue South. Sound Transit says both could be built for less and pose less construction delay than the Fourth Avenue South option.
The CID north station would serve the role of a regional hub that transit advocates see as critical for people to transfer to and from all three lines (Green, Blue and Pink) that will eventually run through downtown Seattle. Unlike the Fourth Avenue South alternative, the CID north option has land nearby that Sound Transit can acquire for construction, and then sell back to the community for affordable housing. And, Sound Transit, in partnership with the city of Seattle, can invest in streetscaping that will make the walk between Yesler Way and South Jackson Street safer and more accessible.
The CID south station has similar benefits. It would be just one block south of Uwajimaya, and could catalyze new, accessible streetscaping and affordable housing on nearby land — expanding the CID south. Visitors to the CID could get off here to experience all the CID has to offer, residents can access the line to the airport via the Green Line, and stadium-goers would have another point of access on game days.
We support investment in our regional transit system and want the CID to benefit from access to it. But we refuse the notion that it is justifiable or acceptable for the CID to be collateral damage yet again for an infrastructure project that mostly benefits other communities — especially when there is a better alternative.
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