What is the future of Seattle's industry? Warren Aakervik, Jr., wants to know.
The second-generation owner of Ballard Oil Co. fuels home furnaces and the engines of the Alaska-bound fishing fleet from his dock on Salmon Bay. But episodic clashes -- with bicyclists and pedestrians who want to extend the Burke-Gilman Trail past the business's driveway, or nearby residents objecting to noise at odd hours -- make him wonder how the city's $2 billion maritime industry can cope as urban resettlement bleaches his neighborhood's blue collar white.
Since 2000, the sale price of land in Seattle's industrial zones has gone up 70 percent. Aakervik just got notice of a 25 percent property tax increase -- making it incrementally more tempting, he says, to sell. His land is worth nearly half a million dollars. Buyers wouldn't pay that kind of money to keep peddling oil.
"The second and third generations look at the business and say, 'Why am I down here when no one wants me? Why don't I just take my money and run like everyone else?'"
But what I want to do," he says, "is keep supplying this industry so [the fleet] keeps coming back and spending its money in Seattle."
And in this, Aakervik says, the city's leadership "is finally coming around."Last week, Mayor Greg Nickels' office released a report stating its intent to curb land speculation in the industrial areas and the job-sucking business closures that come with it.
In its release of findings and recommendations for the city's designated manufacturing and industrial districts (the Duwamish and the stretch of land from Ballard south through Interbay) the city details the benefits of industry -- like work that pays nearly 20 percent more than the citywide average -- and the growing threats it faces from real estate development. The solution? Change the zoning code to keep big-box retailers and office complexes out of those areas and let industrial landowners make money by selling off their right to build in the air space above their roofs -- probably in service of Starbucks' expansion of its SODO headquarters.
The prospects for other industrial areas -- on the northern, eastern, and southern ends of Lake Union, and south and west of the International District -- are dim. The report signals that since these and other isolated industrial pockets don't provide the advantage of "the large concentration of related industries," they are better suited to high-density housing or commercial use.
After decades of emigration of the manufacturing sector, blue-collar industrial labor is no longer a major source of accessible family-wage jobs. In King County, health care, government, aerospace, and construction sectors supply more middle-income positions that don't require a college degree, according to a January study by Seattle University economist Paul Sommers.
That's not to say industrial land isn't important, especially because it's getting scarcer. The city has lost 554 acres through zoning changes since 1984, the remaining 5,000 acres constituting one-eighth of the city's land mass. The mayor's report notes that Seattle already has enough non-industrial land to meet residential
and commercial growth; it also observes that when warehouses or working docks are rumored to be the future site of an office park or condo tower, their prices rise. And if rents go up too, there are adverse consequences for the business tenant.
Key among the report's specifics was a note of concession to Starbucks, whose corporate headquarters on First and Lander St. the company has said it's outgrowing. The trick to letting Starbucks expand, city staffers explain, is to prevent a blanket zoning change that would flood the neighborhood with office workers. The building's owner, development firm Nitze-Stagen has requested a commercial zoning change of blocks north and south of the mermaid-topped building.
Nitze-Stagen could not be reached for comment. Starbucks, however, remains happy with its SODO location. "We look forward to working with the city to both ensure that SODO's unique place in Seattle's history is secure and that we have the room we need to grow as we add thousands of new family-wage jobs in our downtown campus in the coming years," says company spokesperson Bridget Parker.