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The carnival sideshow of light rail stations

This afternoon the Council’s Committee on Economic Resiliency and Regional Relations will receive a report we commissioned on increasing job density without radically altering allowed land uses around the SODO light rail station. For those of you not familiar with the area or if you’ve been daydreaming whenever LINK stops at this under-used station, the SODO platform sits in the middle of an industrial area to the south of the Stadium stop. Just to the west you see the Lander Post Office garage and the Starbucks mermaid coyly peeking up out of the Starbucks SODO headquarters. A light rail stop in an industrial area is a little bit like a unicorn or an odd carnival sideshow. It’s odd. Job densities in industrial areas are low almost by definition. Industrial and manufacturing companies need space to make and store things. Over time, manufacturing has become generally more streamlined and automated, meaning it takes fewer people to make and store things than it did a few decades ago. Also, it’s not like you and I use light rail to pick up a few things from Home Depot, a cabinet maker, or a granite counter-top showroom.

So, what’s the stop good for? A year or so ago I started thinking about whether we could induce more job density near the station while still tilting the area game toward industrial and manufacturing-friendly companies. The report from Community Attributes gives us a great snapshot of who works in the area, where the employees come from, and what kind of demand we see in the space market that could be met in the area. Not surprisingly, there’s no easy, quick answer to attracting businesses with more employees who might actually uses light rail to commute. Check out the recommendations, though. Maybe a “mixed use overlay” allowing additional office space (though not residential) near the station would be OK. I also like the “compatability matrix” employed by some of the other cities reviewed.

After today’s presentation we’ll spread the report around to advocates in the SODO area and some real estate and employment experts to determine which ideas to pursue. Your feedback is welcome.

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