About Bryan Cohen

Bryan Cohen is a CHS reporter. Reach him at chasecohen@gmail.com and @bchasesc

First Hill Streetcar delays are prompting SDOT director to visit Czech manufacturer

The most useless Seattle transit tracking app ever -- Vesselfinder.com shows the Maltese vehicle carrier Tiger underway to the States with one of Seattle's streetcars aboard -- Check out the latest position at vesselfinder.com

The most useless Seattle transit tracking app ever — Vesselfinder.com shows the Maltese vehicle carrier MV Tiger underway to the States with one of Seattle’s streetcars aboard — Check out the latest position at vesselfinder.com

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SDOT director Scott Kubly (far right) meets with the City Council transportation committee.

City Council member Tom Rasmussen is not happy about delays with the First Hill Streetcar. While his office never responded to CHS as we broke the news last week that streetcar service won’t be started as late as the end of July, Rasmussen did have a lot of questions for the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation during a Tuesday council meeting.

When pressed about why the manufacturer Inkekon had still not shipped three streetcars from the Czech Republic, SDOT’s Scott Kubly said the delay was more about poor timeline setting. Inekon had to redesign several key components from their stock streetcar model and Kubly said the city had not anticipated the extra manufacturing time.

However, Kubly’s heavy handed response to the delay suggests he and SDOT are taking an even more serious response to the issues.

Kubly said he began holding daily phone calls with the CEO of Inekon last month and that he is planning a trip to the Czech Republic in February to inspect production and press the importance of delivering the cars as soon as possible.

“This is frustrating,” Rasmussen said during the meeting. “How do you know they’re just not putting you off and not making excuses, and if they really buckled down they could get this thing done sooner?” Continue reading

Broadway OfficeMax is closing in February

IMG_9040Ripple effects from a multi-national corporate acquisition are once again making an impact on Capitol Hill. This time, it’s not a local brewery takeover, but the closure of an office supply chain store.

CHS has learned that the Broadway OfficeMax will be closing its doors in late February, just one year after it opened in the mixed-use Lyric building. Around 400 other OfficeMax locations were slated to close last year as part of Office Depot’s 2013 takeover of the company.

UPDATE (1/28): An OfficeDepot corporate spokesperson said the Broadway store would close on February 21st.

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An employee at the Broadway store told CHS that staff were notified of the closing a few weeks ago. Pillar Properties owns the Lyric apartments, but the company does not control the OfficeMax commercial space. A Pillar spokesperson said they’ve reached out to the individual who owns the space for more details on what may come next. We’ll update here if we hear anything.

The Broadway OfficeMax was one of six nationwide “vector” stores — a smaller-format concept meant to target urban neighborhoods. CHS broke the news of the company’s move on to Broadway in August 2013 and was there in January just before the store’s grand opening. At the time, store employees said the companies strategy was to offer a range of businesses services to the neighborhood’s independent shop owners. The Broadway location also includes around 90% of office supplies found in OfficeMax’s regular sized stores.

An OfficeMax corporate spokesperson did not return CHS’s request for comment on the Broadway closure.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the atypically large Broadway space that sits between Thomas and E Olive Way. With nearly one square mile more than 5,000 square feet of retail area, the space is small by box store standards but probably too large for many independent retailers. It’s possible the store could be divided in half with two separate entrances.

Broadway recently lost two longtime retailers when Redlight and Aprie fashion stores shuttered in November. Lifelong Thrift is preparing to take Redlight’s place, but is seeking some extra funds to help pay for the move from 10th and E Union.

Down the block, Metro Clothing is holding a liquidation sale to make way for of major changes in inventory. Metro owners assured customers on Facebook the sale was not a signal the store was closing.

Meanwhile, Broadway’s Castle Megastore sex shop is making plans to move to E Pike.

Light rail remains on track to serve Capitol Hill by early 2016

CHS Turner Places Rat Slab for Half of the Ped Concourse.JPG

Workers pour concrete for the pedestrian concourse inside the Capitol Hill Station. (Image: Sound Transit)

With all of the delayed transit projects around Seattle, here’s some encouraging news: light rail service on Capitol Hill is still on track to start by early 2016. According to Sound Transit, the project also remains $150 million under budget with the total cost expected to come in around $1.8 billion.

The University Link line will extend from downtown to connect with Capitol Hill and University District stations. Sound Transit began boring for the Northgate Link tunnel in November, which will add three more stations north of the University Station: U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate.

Construction on the Capitol Hill Station is around 78% complete. Recent work has included erecting structural steel over the station entryways and installing elevators and escalators.

As for the housing and retail development that will surround the station, Sound Transit is still evaluating proposals submitted in December. The board is expected to announce the winning contractor(s) in early March. Sound Transit denied an earlier request by CHS to obtain copies of the proposals they are considering.SiteMapv4-W-Map-1024x807-600x472

There are just four developers left in the running to build all or part of the 100,000 square feet “transit oriented development” that will include housing, commercial, and a community spaces:

  • Capitol Hill Housing – Site B North
  • Gerding Edlen – Master developer for all sites
  • Jonathan Rose Companies/Capitol Hill Housing – Master developer for all sites
  • Lowe Enterprises – Sites A, B-South, and C

As part of the agreement, the City of Seattle will allow the project to stretch to an 85-foot height limit — some 45 feet above the current maximums for the 10th Ave E neighbors of the project. The extension will help the development plan make space for goals driven by the community design framework while providing enough units for developers to profit and create affordable and low-income housing in the project.

Meanwhile, the First Hill Streetcar will be further delayed. CHS recently reported that  service is likely to be delayed for several more months as the streetcar’s manufacturer, Inekon, continues to face assembly delays in the Czech Republic. The six streetcars for the First Hill line were planned to be ready by October 7th as per the $26.7 million contract with the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Soul sisters did it their way for 18 years at Capitol Hill’s original Kingfish Cafe

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Laurie, left, and Leslie (Image: Alex Garland for CHS)

Eighteen years ago, twin sisters Laurie and Leslie Coaston were sitting on the corner of 19th and Mercer, counting off cars as they passed by. The single digit count was making the sisters seriously doubt their decision to open a soul food restaurant in the backcountry of Capitol Hill.

“This was a bad idea,” Leslie remembered saying. “There is nobody out here.”

Luckily, having good street visibility was never necessary for the Kingfish Cafe. On opening day in 1997, a line was forming around the block. It’s similar to the nightly — and brunch-ly scenes — happening in the final days of the 19th and Mercer Kingfish. “We’re going out like we came in,” said Laurie while taking her first breather after a slammed Wednesday lunch.

The Kingfish will close its doors for good at 19th and Mercer on Sunday afternoon, ending a long chapter in the commercial life of 19th Ave E. Since the sisters made the announcement last week, lines have wound up the block with customers hoping to experience the Kingfish one last time. The outpouring of grief and goodwill came as somewhat of a shock to the Coastons.

“Some people said they saw the news that we were closing and they cried,” Leslie said, looking bewildered. “I just hope we can hold it together on Sunday.” Continue reading

New owner, higher rents bringing an end to the Summit Inn DIY house and artist collective 

The freewheeling, DIY days of Capitol Hill’s Summit Inn are coming to an end. The culprit? Higher rents, of course.

Longtime building owner Pete Sikov recently sold the Inn to real estate investor Brad Padden, who residents say is raising rents in an effort to transform units into conventional apartments. Residents at the 1722 Summit Ave building that spoke with CHS said many of the building’s artists and musicians are now moving out, or planning to in the coming weeks.

On December 31st, residents were notified that rents would increase by around $100 and continue to increase for the foreseeable future. “We understand that the living conditions at the Summit Inn are in need of a major makeover. We will begin that process immediately,” said the letter form the building’s new manager, David Sharkey. Continue reading

Thanks to auto row and REI roots, The Stranger building to join neighboring Value Village as protected landmarks

One of Pike/Pine’s most recognizable auto-row buildings is likely to remain intact for decades to come thanks to a gush of neighborhood support and a key vote on Wednesday.

The Landmarks Preservation Board voted 8-0 to designate the White Motor Company building an official city landmark, citing its auto row-era roots and ties to one of the nation’s most widely known outdoor retailers. The landmark bid now moves to City Council for final approval.

“It is very easily identifiable, even to those not familiar with Capitol Hill,” said board member Deb Barker.

An early component of Seattle’s REI history and now home to The Stranger and the Rhino Room, the prominent terra cotta-faced building at 11th and Pine has stood above Cal Anderson Park since it was was constructed in 1918.

REI voiced support for White Motor’s landmark bid, but the outdoor retailer has not said if it has any future plans to become more involved with the building. An REI spokesperson would only say the company was following the landmarks process “with interest.”

A landmark designation, along with the recent landmark designation of the adjacent Value Village building, threaten to halt plans for a preservation incentive-powered development project by owner Legacy Commercial though appeals could be in the offing.

Members of the public spoke in favor of a landmark designation on Wednesday and the board had previously received dozens of letters in support of the bid. With relatively little deliberation, the board also voted to landmark the building’s third floor interior wooden beams. Continue reading

To better patrol growing Pike/Pine, SPD’s East Precinct to drop Eastlake and add First Hill

After tabling the issue for years, the Seattle Police Department is reconfiguring the way officers patrol Capitol Hill and other central Seattle neighborhoods. Plans expected to go into effect this month would redraw police precinct boundaries to keep officers from having to routinely cross I-5 to respond to calls, CHS has learned. In the Capitol Hill-headquarted East Precinct, it means a swapping out coverage of Eastlake for First Hill.

The new East Precinct lines will also mean more officers patrolling in closer proximity to Capitol Hill’s nightlife corridors. Last year, a spike in Capitol Hill street robberies and assaults prompted Chief Kathleen O’Toole to emphasis patrols to crackdown on nightlife violence. O’Toole announced that SPD gang unit personnel would increase patrols in Pike/Pine and around Cal Anderson Park to help root out reported issues with gangs of young males. In the weeks following, SPD brass claimed a dramatic reduction in crime in the area. Continue reading

More delay for First Hill Streetcar puts open date after July Block Party

(Image: Gordon Werner via Flickr with permission to CHS)

(Image: Gordon Werner via Flickr with permission to CHS)

It may be time to add the First Hill Streetcar to the list of Seattle transit projects facing serious setbacks. After the Seattle Department of Transportation pushed back the launch date from fall 2014 to “early” 2015, CHS has learned that the SDOT now expects the Capitol Hill-to-Pioneer Square streetcar won’t be in service until at least August.

An SDOT official, speaking at last week’s meeting of the Seattle Special Events Committee, said the streetcar would not be operational for this year’s Capitol Hill Block Party, which runs from July 24th-26th. SDOT media personnel did not respond to requests for comment on this story. The SDOT official who spoke at the meeting pointed us to this December update (PDF), but the document says nothing about when the streetcar would come online. Meanwhile, City Council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen also did not respond to our repeated requests for comment on the delay. Continue reading

Uncle Ike’s first Christmas comes up big but 2015 starts with Washington pot supply (finally) exceeding demand

(Source: WSLCB)

Uncle Ike’s sales outpaced state growth totals on the holiday revenue end of things (Source: WSLCB)

Uncle Ike's first customers were paying $26 for the shop's cheapest gram (Photo: Alex Garland)

Uncle Ike’s first customers were paying $26 per gram for the cheapest strains, now selling for $10. (Photo: Alex Garland)

If you’ve been avoiding Seattle’s retail marijuana shops because of the sky high prices, now might be the time to make a visit . Across the state, retail marijuana prices have dropped by over half in some places from when sales first started last summer.

At Uncle Ike’s, Capitol Hill’s nearest recreational pot retailer at 23rd and Union, some strains are now selling for around $10 per gram. The average gram was selling for $30 when the store opened in September. At the time, the state hadn’t permitted enough growers to meet demand, but the tides have apparently turned.

“Processors are now just sitting on hundreds of pounds and they can’t sell it,” said Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg. “There are more growers coming on line every day.”

In fact, Eisenberg said the CHS advertiser has so much surplus that he’s having to build out more storage for the glut of pre-packaged pot. Eisenberg filed construction permits for the work last month.

The lower prices may get more customers in the door, but Eisenberg said he and other I-502 retailers still can’t compete with the less regulated and less taxed medical market. This week, City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a call to state lawmakers to fold the medical system in the I-502 framework, a proposal Eisenberg said he supports.

Still, Uncle Ike’s remains one of the most successful shops in the state. State sales jumped 5% on average between November and December, while sales at Uncle Ike’s jumped 23%. Eisenberg’s shop was responsible for 4.15% of total marijuana sales in the state in December with just over $700,000 in pre-tax sales.

An ongoing lawsuit from a neighboring church isn’t slowing Ike’s down, either. In December, a King County Superior Court judge denied Mount Calvary Christian Center’s attempt to shut down Ike’s while their lawsuit against the business moves through court. The church is suing the pot shop for operating too close to a facility it says it being used as a teen center.

Meanwhile, a shuttered pot delivery service that operated on Capitol Hill is getting a new life in the legal market. Last month, the state liquor board approved the Winterlife Coop to become a marijuana processor at a north Seattle facility. Winterlife’s plans include producing “solvent-less” concentrates for vaporizers using alcohol rather than petroleum.

“Our main focus is edibles and concentrates as we believe that more and more the customer base will move away from smoking as the primary delivery source,” Winterlife’s Evan Cox told CHS. “It’s quite a change, but we’ve been preparing for it for some time and we’re overjoyed.”

And one last note: The timeline for an I-502 store opening on 15th Ave E is getting moved back again. Samuel Burke told CHS he now hopes to open tōk sometime in May.

It’s time to put the arts in 12th Ave Arts as new Capitol Hill stages come to life

The Sprawl set gets some paint inside 12th Ave Arts (Image: WET)

The Sprawl set gets some paint inside 12th Ave Arts (Image: WET)

The lights are up, the seats are set, and production managers are geeking out over new equipment. The inaugural season of theater at 12th Avenue Arts is ready to commence.

12th Ave’s three resident theater groups have been settling into their two black box spaces since the lights went on in November at the Capitol Hill Housing arts and affordable apartments complex. Strawberry Theatre Workshop, Washington Ensemble Theatre, and New Century Theatre Company have solidified their first slate of plays, which kick off next week. Continue reading

Group seeks donations to open LGBTQ credit union on Capitol Hill

sitebanner@2xA Seattle organization hoping to open a LGBTQ-focused credit union on Capitol Hill is seeking donations to keep the effort afloat. Equality Washington formed last year to launch the Equality Credit Union, aimed at serving Washington’s LGBTQ community and re-investing in LGBTQ individuals and causes.

The non-profit has just one day left in its fundraising campaign to help get the credit union off the ground. On Tuesday afternoon, the group had raised around $34,000 in their Indiegogo campaign to reach $50,000 by Wednesday night. Vice president Andrew Tasakos appealed to supporters for help on the organization’s fundraising page.

“We really do need to hit our goal to continue. We have been funding this effort ourselves since April and it has grown to a point where assistance is needed and appreciated,” Tasakos wrote.

The group will retain the funds its raised even if it doesn’t meet its goal. Equality Washington, which plans to open branches on Capitol Hill and South Lake Union, recently obtained non-profit status in order to allow for tax-deduticlbe donations.

Credit unions are member-owned, nonprofit financial institutions that serve specific communities and, occasionally, underserved populations. Before Liberty Bank opened in the Central District, a few small credit unions served black families who struggled to obtain loans.

According to Equality Washington, traditional banks are not meeting the special financial needs of LGBTQ customers, especially when it comes to same-sex couples trying to obtain mortgages and other financing.

Last year Sen. Patty Murray introduced the Freedom from Discrimination in Lending Act to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination when securing credit. While Washington law prohibits financial institutions form discriminating against LGBTQ people, Equality Washington says 29 states lack such protections.

7 things Capitol Hill’s leaders in Olympia will work on in 2015 include more light rail, money for new schools

(Images: wastateleg.org and housedemocrats.wa.gov)

The Legislature’s 2015 session kicks off Monday with two Capitol Hill residents heading back to Olympia to represent the 43rd District. Sen. Jaime Pedersen and Rep. Brady Walkinshaw are entering the 105-day session after running unopposed in last year’s election. House Speaker Frank Chopp will continue his reign over the House after a decisive win against Jess Spear in November.

Revenue is shaping up to be the major theme of this year’s 105-day session. As the state faces massive spending needs in education and transportation, battles over new revenue streams are likely to take up most of the oxygen in the State Capitol, Pedersen told CHS.

A preview of the tax debate was heard during last week’s annual Associated Press legislative forum, where Governor Jay Inslee advocated for Washington to join most other states in implementing a capital gains tax. Pedersen and Walkinshaw said they both strongly support the tax, which would generate an estimated $800 million and affect about 1% of Washington residents. But with a Republican-controlled Senate, Pedersen wasn’t optimistic about the plan’s chances of passing. “It’s not clear what additional revenue, if any, we can get,” he said.

So where would all that new revenue hypothetically go?

  • Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 11.50.41 PMTransportation: The Legislature hasn’t passed a comprehensive transportation package since 2005. Last year, local officials decided to start looking closer to home to fund major transit projects. In November, Seattle voters approved Mayor Ed Murray’s plan to locally fund Metro bus services through a sales tax increase and vehicle license fee. A couple weeks later, Sound Transit asked the Legislature for the ability to raise its taxes to fund work on a ballot measure to expand light rail in the region.The $15 billion Sound Transit 3 initiative would fund work to expand light rail into Ballard and possibly West Seattle, eventually adding more destinations accessible from the upcoming Capitol Hill Station. “Now that we’re hooked into the spine of the system, all of those improvements make our station more useful,” Pedersen said. “When that goes live, it becomes a complete game changer.” The Sound Transit board is hoping to have the initiative on the ballot in 2016. Board members recently offered a rough outline of what the new taxes may look like:
    — A Property tax increase equating to an annual $75 for a $300,000 house.
    — A Sales tax of up to an additional 0.5 percent
    — A Motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) reauthorization of up to 0.8 percent of vehicle value ($80 annually on a $10,000 vehicle).Allowing the agency to raise taxes above its current limits could be an easier pill to swallow for Olympia’s Republicans, though the 43rd’s delegation is still pushing for a comprehensive transportation package this year.

    Pedersen said he was also committed to finding funding to finish the SR-520 west approach bridge, including plans for a shortened land bridge to cross over a Montlake-side portion of the highway. Continue reading

Seattle Central could offer two free years of school under White House plan

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

President Barack Obama dropped a sneak peak of his State of the Union address on Thursday by announcing a plan to make two years of community college free for “anyone who’s willing to work for it.” We’ll have to wait until January 20th for the full details, but the idea is already generating lots of excitement, including at Capitol Hill’s Seattle Central College.

“We fully support President Obama’s vision. It would be a huge boost to our students and Washington’s economy,” said SCC spokesperson David Sandler in a statement on the announcement.

The federal government would initially fund 75% of the program while states would pick up the rest.

SCC enrolls nearly 17,000 students across 78 degrees and certification programs. Sandler said the White House initiative would reinforce the school’s 2013 scholarship program called The Seattle Promise, which pays full tuition for students who demonstrate financial need and maintain a certain GPA.

“In many ways, the President’s proposal affirms the approach we’re already taking to make a college education more accessible to more people,” Sandler said.

Vice President Joe Biden joined Obama in Tennessee on Friday to drum up more excitement for the plan. POTUS attended a Madrona fundraiser in July.

The proposal comes as Seattle Central and its Seattle Colleges District system join other community colleges in the state with continued declining enrollment of full time students — a situation predicted to last through at least 2017. The same state analysis predicts tuition to remain steady. But budget cuts have continued to take their toll on staff and facilities even as the Capitol Hill school has launched new initiatives to expand its offerings.  Last year, SCC made a controversial move to drop “community” from the college’s name, but we’re pretty sure that it’s still eligible for the proposed Obama bucks.

Source: seattlecentral.edu

City attorney calls for pot lounges and a crackdown on illegal medical shops

In 2013 we called it the renter’s paradox: Washington has legal pot, but many people, including renters and tourists, don’t have a place to “legally” use it. At the time, City Attorney Pete Holmes said the legislature needed to address the issue. This week, Holmes issued a wide-ranging memo urging the legislature to make legal pot reforms, including allowing for “marijuana use lounges.”

Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana; others, however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renter and condominium owners whose building do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options. Enforcement against public marijuana use will be more effective if people have alternative locations to use marijuana legally.

With a prohibition against using marijuana “in view of the general public,” the situation has left some conscientious renters and tourists wondering where they can technically smoke-up.

Holmes envisions the new lounge businesses would be 21 and over, allowed to sell food but not alcohol, and restricted to vaporizers and edibles. Since legal pot can’t be used where it’s sold, lounge customers would have to bring their own product. Continue reading

A Sawant challenger steps into Seattle Council District 3 ring

Rod Hearne

Rod Hearne was the former director of Equal Rights Washington, where he still sits on the board.

A marriage equality organizer and progressive fundraiser is building his campaign to challenge Kshama Sawant in the race to represent Seattle Council District 3.

Rod Hearne told CHS he will enter the race after he filed his campaign paperwork on Tuesday. The former director of Equal Rights Washington told CHS he had been exploring a run in district for months.

“I think I have a good shot at it,” Hearne said. “I’m very, very motived in the new year to get going.”

Hearne, 47, has never run for office, but comes into the race with political experience as a Democratic fundraiser and director of ERW, a group that played a key role in winning statewide marriage equality in 2012.

“I’ve always been a more behind the scenes supporter. A coalition builder, not a front a man,” he said.

The Capitol Hill resident said his decision to step into the limelight was significantly influenced by the block-by-block campaigning now possible under the new district elections. Also appealing, Hearne said, was the opportunity to challenge Sawant under a new voter base. Continue reading