In cities much larger than our northwestern outpost, subways represent more than just a transportation option, they project possibilities. Neighborhoods that would otherwise be off the radar for a happy hour drink or street fair become a doable “few stops away.”
The First Hill Streetcar, slated to open by the end of this year, will bring that expanded state-of-mind to Capitol Hill as the new transit line adds direct connections to Chinatown/International District and Pioneer Square.
Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District BIA, said restaurant owners in his neck of the woods are eagerly awaiting streetcars full of Capitol Hill foodies to descend on the neighborhood.
This weekend kicks off a slew of events around the Chinatown/ID neighborhood that Capitol Hill ought to start getting familiar with (if you aren’t already). The 39th annual Dragon Fest runs Saturday-Sunday and features dancers, musicians, a beer garden, and tons of street food. The $2 ID Food Walk will include over 75 dishes from 35 restaurants priced at just $2.
This year’s festival will also join forces with the Seattle Night Market to offer late night food trucks and a dance party on Saturday. During the day, the Wing Luke Museum will be previewing a Bruce Lee exhibit. More music and cheap street food will be had at July 17th’s Jam Fest, the Chinatown/ID’s summer monthly street fair. The Chinatown Seafair Parade closes out the week of activities on July 20th.
Skeptics might point out that Capitol Hill residents are already connected to the ID and Pioneer Square by relatively frequent bus service. But planners think the dependable, easy to understand, fixed route will attract more riders than bus routes and the streetcar will create a steadier flow of movement between the neighborhoods.
Even though the streetcar hasn’t opened, the Capitol Hill/ID/Pioneer Square neighborhood cross-pollination has already begun. Capitol Hill’s Cone & Steiner General will be opening their second location just a short walk from the future Pioneer Square station. Skillet Diner’s Josh Henderson, who’s also behind Cone & Steiner, will be opening a craft cocktail bar called Quality Athletics at 2nd and King. Melrose Market’s Taylor Shellfish is also slated to open any day now at their new Pioneer Square location. And it goes the other way, too — the ID’s Oasis Tea Zone will open it’s fourth location on Capitol Hill later this year.
The streetcar’s cross-pollinating effects could also inevitably create fertile ground for more development and higher rents along the rapid transit line. Blakeney said Chinatown/ID is already feeling the pressure of high rents for small businesses coming down from Capitol Hill.
“We’re looking at ways both in Little Saigon and in Chinatown to keep rents affordable,” he said. “It’s the same issue as on Broadway but at the total other end of the economic and cultural spectrum.”
There’s also been some cross-pollination at the community group level. Blakeney is a member of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and recently stepped up to serve as the interim leader of the group’s board of directors.
Business groups from Chinatown/ID, Pioneer Square, and Capitol Hill are already discussing ways to promote the new neighborhood connections. Blakeney said the groups will likely begin planning a multi-neighborhood streetcar kickoff event once the city sets a firm launch date.