Business favors monorail
Next month marks a turning point in the history of the Junction, when Seattle voters will decide whether to kill or continue the monorail project.
The business district could return to its roots as a transportation site. After all, it's been called the Junction since 1907 because the California Avenue streetcar line met the Fauntleroy streetcar, at Alaska Street and California Avenue.
If voters give the monorail their blessing, the Junction will become the southern terminus of a 10.6-mile monorail line. That means hundreds more pedestrians going through the West Seattle business district Monday through Friday. It could mean a big boost to Junction businesses' bottom line.
On the other hand, the Junction already is experiencing a commercial mini-renaissance without benefit of a monorail station. There are hip clothing stores, cool bars and delightful restaurants up and down the Junction these days.
The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board of directors recently recommended voters support the monorail yet again on Nov. 8. Board members cited the monorail as a transportation solution for West Seattle during future years of construction to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
"In addition, the monorail will provide a long-term transportation anchor that will strengthen the commercial activity in Alaska Junction and all of West Seattle," said a Chamber press release.
Despite the Chamber's concern about the effects of the monorail vote, some key Junction property owners are forging ahead with their development plans regardless of how voters decide.
Take Leon Capelouto for example. He owns numerous buildings in the Junction and plans to build a 165-unit apartment building and retail store development of his own across Alaska Street from Jefferson Square.
" I can't put all my chips on the monorail," Capelouto said.
Like other Junction property owners, he's been aware for years of the possibility a monorail station could be built less than one block from his project site. Not knowing for sure whether the monorail station would ever really be built, he was forced to design his mixed-use development without regard to it.
Capelouto's development is planned along Alaska Street from 41st to 42nd avenues southwest. The seven-story structure will have 65,000 square feet of retail space on two levels, plus five stories of apartments above. There will also be two levels of underground parking.
Capelouto hopes to secure his master-use permit in time to start construction during the first quarter of 2006, no matter how the monorail vote turns out.
"I had to design it whether the monorail comes or not," he said.
Having a monorail station in the Junction would be good for business, particularly small businesses, because it would create " synergy," he said.
"Small business relies on foot traffic to survive because most small business doesn't draw customers on its own," Capelouto said.
The presence of a monorail station and its connection to the rest of the city probably would bring more sophisticated stores to the Junction, he said.
"The monorail would be important for the Junction, if we can have it," he said.
He acknowledged that having the southern terminus of the Green Line in the Alaska Junction could have an impact on the availability of parking in the business district, but he's philosophical about that.
" With every good thing there's some bad," he said.
Capelouto doesn't buy the theory that having a monorail station would attract chain stores to the Junction.
"For one thing, they're huge," he said. " We just don't have the square footage in the Junction (for big-box stores)."
Next month's vote on the future of the monorail probably will be a turning point for the Junction, but Capelouto is confident in the Junction's future.
"The Junction is going to get better regardless," he said. " But if we get the monorail, it would happen quicker."
Another developer with big plans is Charlie Conner of Conner Homes.
Several years ago, he bought all of the property along the east side of California Avenue from Alaska Street south to the New Luck Toy restaurant. He acquired all of the buildings on the south side of Alaska Street between California and 42nd avenues. He also bought the stores on the west side of 42nd Avenue from Alaska Street south to about where the Chan Clinic stands.
Conner plans to build an eight-story apartment building at California Avenue and Alaska Street, with a six-story apartment building next to it at Alaska Street and 42nd Avenue. Conner's development would be kitty corner from Capelouto's project.
High-ceiling retail storefronts are planned to wrap around three sides of the project with apartments on the floors above. The new stores are to be on California Avenue, Alaska Street and 42nd Avenue. There also will be underground multilevel parking.
"We'll be building our project regardless of whether the monorail comes or goes," Conner said, although he added that design of the project wouldn't begin until the results of the Nov. 8 vote are known.
Conner said construction of his apartment-retail development "is gonna be out there a little," meaning work won't begin any time soon.
"It's going to happen. It's a question of sooner or later," Conner said. "But we're in it for the long haul."
Another key property owner in the Junction is the Miller family, which owns Husky Deli and many other buildings in the business district.
As with other Junction property owners, Jack Miller is staying open in the Junction no matter what cards the voters deal next month.
Like other property owners in the Junction, Miller intends to go ahead with business as usual, no matter what voters decide about the future of the monorail.
Jack Miller said he's in favor of having a monorail station in the Junction but only if the monorail is a quality mode of transportation.
"If they do it right, I'd welcome it," he said. "But not if it's a big, stupid dinosaur."
It also makes sense for the Alaska Junction to be the southern terminus of the Green Line, he said.
"I always thought it was ridiculous to go down to Morgan Junction," Miller added.
If approved, the monorail could provide a significant boost to business in the Junction, he said. It could also be a viable transportation alternative to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which could be closed some day for replacement with a roadway that would be less vulnerable to earthquakes.
Then again, if next month turns out to be the demise of the monorail, the Junction will chug on.
"I like the Junction the way it is," Miller said. "There aren't a lot of chain stores. Everybody owns their own store. That's part of what makes the Junction cool."
He's prepared no matter what hand the voters decide.
"I'm not moving out if it doesn't pass," Miller said. "If it doesn't pass, we can hang onto our little Junction a while longer."
The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board of directors thinks having a monorail station would improve commercial activity in the Junction, said Patti Mullen, the organization's executive director.
"A Junction station provides infrastructure the Junction needs," she said. " It will be years before West Seattle has another opportunity to improve our commuter capability."
Included in the Chamber of Commerce motion to support the monorail, the board of directors also argued for reinstating the Avalon station, which had been proposed on 35th Avenue just south of Avalon Way. Plans for the Avalon station have been shelved to reduce the cost of phase-one construction.
The Chamber board also urged that a double-beam guideway be built on the West Seattle Bridge instead of the single-beam stretch previously announced.
Tim St. Clair can be contacted at email@example.com or 932-0300.