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Tukwila Is Ready To Grow Up

KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Former Washington State Governor Gary Locke helped break ground Thursday on what will be the tallest building between Seattle and Tacoma. And it's in Tukwila. Officials there say the 19-story hotel and residential tower, known as Washington Place, will help Tukwila usher in a new era of denser, transit-oriented development.

The Heart Of Tukwila

For a city to become a real community, it has to have a heart, someplace where people gather. For Tukwila resident Vincent Rogers, the heart of Tukwila is definitely the Southcenter Mall (known officially as Westfield Southcenter). "You can see everybody of different races, different cultures, different cities, everything," explained Rogers enthusiastically.

So does Rogers hang out there too?

"Oh yeah, I go there all the time. I go there every Saturday to go to the AMC movie theater, because it’s great."

Rogers went on to describe what else he loves about Tukwila. "Everything is walking distance. If you want to walk, you can walk, if you want to drive, you can drive." 

Wait a minute. Southcenter is a mall. Malls were designed for people to drive to. "It sounds like you're describing a walkable city," I ventured. 

"Yeah, exactly," confirmed Rogers. "It’s awesome. Everything is walking distance. You can go work out, after you work out you can go eat, after that you can go to the movies. It’s one of the best things about Tukwila, I love it." Rogers may not know it, but that walkability is the result of years of work by Tukwila's government. 

[asset-images[{"caption": "Developers Omar and Christine Lee (no relation to Odin Brewing Company's Dan Lee) pose in front of a poster showing their proposed tower development in Tukwila. The tower will replace a vacant Circuit City big box store.", "fid": "80897", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201409/Omar__&_Christine_Lee.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]A Catalyst For Growth

Tukwila has a number of other advantages. Housing is cheaper to build here than Seattle and there are lots of retail jobs. At the same time, Tukwila is connected to Seattle by commuter rail. The city sits at the crossroads of two major freeways: I-5 and 405. All those amenities have begun to attract the attention of developers. 

The new Washington Place tower will be just east of Southcenter Mall.  The project is located far away from Tukwila's Link Light Rail station, but it's near the less frequent Sounder commuter line. That location is significant because it suggest the neighborhood around Southcenter can still generate excitement.

City Planner Nora Gierloff says it’s the kind of development she’s been hoping for. “We’re really seeing some catalyst projects and seeing some change happen that people have asked for for a long time. I think getting that proof of concept for residential development in the urban center will really be a tipping point.”

Businesses Betting On Tukwila

Some businesses are betting big on those big changes. “I’m convinced, when we look back 10 years from now – within a mile radius of where we’re standing – you won’t be able to recognize it anymore," said Dan Lee. He's moving his business, The Odin Brewing Company, from Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood to Tukwila. 

“We're getting in on the ground floor, here. As the community itself grows up around us, we will grow with that community," Lee said. The developers also seem to be benefiting from Lee, too. Lee tells me he's been approached – and thanked – for opening the kind of business that helps developers sell the Tukwila lifestyle.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Looking out over Southcenter Mall from Tukwila City Hall, Mayor Jim Haggerton recalls the disappointment he felt when he learned Link Light Rail would not extend to Southcenter. 'But that's in the past,' he says. ", "fid": "80898", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201409/IMG_3455.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]That kind of optimism expressed by Lee represents a turnaround for Tukwila. When Link Light Rail didn’t go to the Southcenter Mall, officials here were disappointed. But these recent projects show the Southcenter neighborhood is finding a way to grow anyway. There’s a new bus transit center going in at the mall that will help connect people to Link Light Rail. And a planned pedestrian bridge over the Green River will connect the mall and the new Washington Place tower to the Sounder commuter line.