Move Forward on 4th Ave for Seattle's Chinatown International District

Current Position on Sound Transit's West Seattle Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) as related to Seattle's Chinatown International District:

Based on the information that has been studied by Sound Transit and reported out publicly – and vetted by urban planning professionals and community groups and members alike - it is clear that a 4th Ave S station delivers the greatest benefit to the community. Since its mention as an option nearly five years ago, it remains as the only option on the table that has been fully studied, and then further refined, based on community input. On the other hand, 5th Ave S alternatives have been a nonstarter from the beginning, bisecting closest to the heart of the C-ID affecting the Chinatown Gate, Hing Hay Park, two National Register-listed or eligible buildings, dozens of small local businesses and housing/retirement structures - and the North/South options have only been proposed only two months ago.

We recognize that there are no options that do not harm the C-ID, of which the community-preferred 4th Ave S options still require careful implementation and meaningful mitigation commitments while ensuring equal or expanded connectivity at the existing station. Yet, North/South alternatives as proposed while appealing to a more “hands-off” approach to the physical boundaries of the C-ID, bring new concerns to the historic Pioneer Square to the north, where our current Chinatown was relocated from over a century ago and is still an edge condition towards Japantown today – and to the south is the former historic Immigration and Naturalization Services building, current home of the Inscape Arts and Cultural Center. In some ways, the introduction of North/South options this late in the decision-making process is a reprimand, pitched as a compromise, for the community’s initial rejection of the cheaper but more destructive 5th Ave option.

Background on Seattle's Chinatown International District as a Most Endangered Place due to Sound Transit's West Seattle Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) proposals:

Located in the heart of Seattle, the Chinatown-International District (C-ID) has a long and rich history dating back to the late 1800s. Chinese immigrants first came to the region in the late 19th century to work in the booming lumber mills, fishing operations, and railroads. These immigrants established the first Chinatown in Seattle south of Pioneer Square. In 1889, this Chinatown was destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire, and the Chinese community relocated to a new Chinatown on South Washington Street. In the early 1900s, the City of Seattle underwent a major regrading project called the Jackson Regrade, which caused the Chinese community to relocate once again, this time to the current location of Chinatown-International District on King Street. Despite being completely bisected when Interstate 5 was constructed in 1969, the neighborhood has become a hub for the Asian community in Seattle, with a diverse mix of businesses, cultural institutions, and residential buildings. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of eight local historic districts established by the City of Seattle.

Today, however, the neighborhood is facing still new challenges. Sound Transit, the public transit agency serving the Seattle metropolitan area, is currently undertaking the third phase of its multi-billion-dollar regional Link light rail expansion, which will require the construction of a new tunnel under the Chinatown-International District. Sound Transit is considering two alignments for the tunnel: Fifth Avenue or Fourth Avenue. If built under Fifth Avenue, the tunnel construction will take place in the heart of the neighborhood and have a devastating impact on the Chinatown-International District’s Asian businesses and residents. The Fourth Avenue alignment, while not without impacts, would largely take place on the edge of the district, on the west side of Union Station.

A coalition of neighborhood businesses, community organizations, residents, and supporters called Transit Equity for All—alongside such partners as Historic South Downtown (HSD), Seattle Chinatown-International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), the Wing Luke Museum, and the Uwajimaya supermarket corporation—is urging Sound Transit to give the Fourth Avenue options a more thorough consideration and to remove the Fifth Avenue options from the table. Transit Equity for All is led by Betty Lau and Brien Chow, two longtime community leaders who are concerned about the future of the neighborhood. “This is our third and final Chinatown,” said Betty Lau. “The original Chinatown was forced from the waterfront onto Second and Washington. Then Chinatown was forced to move to the current location. If we’re forced out again, where are we going to go?”

It is crucial that any plans for development or infrastructure consider the C-ID’s cultural and historical significance and do everything possible to minimize the impact on the community. The C-ID has already endured too many disruptions and must be protected so that it can continue to thrive and serve as a vital part of Seattle’s diverse community.