Drive past Southcenter, Northgate, or any other major mall in the Seattle area and the view is typically not of the mall itself, but Best Buy, Staples, and other big-box stores that have moved in around it. But city consultants say that won’t happen in Little Saigon: If a 10-acre shopping center and 550 units of housing go in as planned at the site of the Seattle Goodwill on South Dearborn Street, they say large chains aren’t likely to follow.
And even if big boxes do follow the development — which itself will be anchored by a Target and Lowe’s and include a new Goodwill, large grocery, office supplier, electronics outlet, and linen store — the chains won’t hurt the hub of small Vietnamese businesses on its border, because the merchandise and clientele will be different.
Those are two conclusions in a draft report from the city that activists fighting to save Little Saigon called for last year. The report, details of which were shared last week with a citizens advisory group, assesses the economic impacts of both the Goodwill project and the mayor’s Livable South Downtown plan on Little Saigon and the International District.
At the meeting, longtime Pioneer Square activist Tina Bueche said the report barely touches on the issue of traffic and parking — a major concern for Vietnamese merchants in an area around 12th Avenue and South Jackson Street, where both are already a problem. Sound Transit may run a streetcar through the district, but business owners quoted in the report fear the new mall’s traffic will curtail their customers.
Merchants also worry the mall will drive up land values and the low rents they depend on to stay in business. Over time, the report notes, rising real estate prices will force out several auto shops and food distributors to the mall’s north, but won’t cause an immediate spike in rent.
Deep within the report, however, the consultants describe what could be the district’s perfect storm: The combination of a new mall, upzoning, and the Seattle Housing Authority’s planned redevelopment of its nearby Yesler Terrace complex will “likely create a major transformation of the area over time,” the report states, resulting in “many permanent relocations” in Little Saigon if the city doesn’t act to save it.