Tim Silbaugh
Last week, as I was reporting on Mayor Greg Nickels' $45 million South Lake Union streetcar proposal, Vulcan Inc. spokesperson Michael Nank tried to convince me that plenty of people in South Lake Union support the planned route, a 2.5-mile loop from Westlake Center to Lake Union ["Vulcan Mind Meld," Amy Jenniges, June 19]. Vulcan, of course, supports the plan, because building a streetcar could increase property values in South Lake Union, where the company owns 50 acres.

"There's been overwhelming positive interest and support from local residents and businesses," Nank said. "I think you'll certainly be hearing about that in the coming days, about all the people who have really gotten behind the streetcar."

I did hear about it. The Seattle P-I and the Daily Journal of Commerce ran stories on June 18 claiming businesses did back the streetcar. It seems those papers got a June 17 letter--signed by 30 folks, who've formed the Committee to Build a Streetcar-- proclaiming the "exhilarating" future of South Lake Union. The letter--sent to the city council--urged the city to build a trolley in South Lake Union ASAP.

Whoops. That contradicted the story I wrote. I had reported that businesses in South Lake Union--the folks who actually run shop along the streetcar route, many of them renting space from Vulcan--were quietly balking at the streetcar proposal, calling it premature and a waste of city money. Had I missed something?

Nope. When I got my hands on the list, it turned out the P-I and DJC articles missed the larger story. The letter's roster of "civic, community, education and business leaders" wasn't a who's-who of the South Lake Union neighborhood--it was Paul Allen's Christmas card list.

"I got this letter, and one of my to-dos is looking up these folks to see how many of them have financial working relationships with Vulcan," says City Council Member Nick Licata.

Licata's on to something. The list of streetcar supporters includes folks like Jim Mueller and Ada Healey, from Vulcan's real-estate department. Then there's Dean Allen from McKinstry Company, a construction firm that's done work on Vulcan's Experience Music Project and Seahawks Stadium. Real-estate firm the Vance Corp. --signed for by Jim Falconer, who's heading up the committee--has worked with Vulcan's City Investors on a condo-hotel project downtown. James Gore signed on behalf of Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, a biotech firm that's committed to leasing lab space from Vulcan. Developer Harbor Properties (which is building biotech space with Vulcan), architecture firm NBBJ (which designed Vulcan's headquarters), and Trammell Crow (which manages Vulcan properties) also signed on, among others (including two area residents--one who's employed by Trammell Crow, and one who's an Olympia legislative aide).

There's nothing inherently wrong with those companies. However, they're not representative of the South Lake Union neighborhood--despite their hopes for the area's future as a biotech hub. These groups are the ones that control much of the property in South Lake Union, and have a large monetary interest in the neighborhood--they aren't the ones who spend all of their time there running a business. Those folks--the light industrial print shops, the small commercial offices, and the few retail storefronts--didn't sign the letter. "I wouldn't want to be out there as a little Vulcan show," one business owner near the streetcar line said.

"They're welcome to do and say whatever they want," says longtime South Lake Union resident Christine Lea about the list of supporters. But she points out that when it's time to build a trolley, a majority of businesses along the route have to approve the self-tax. "They might not get that. It has to be the people on the street where it's going to be built."

City Council Member Richard Conlin, who chairs the council's transportation committee, seemed nonchalant about the letter, simply pointing out that it was the first the city's heard from a group about the streetcar--either way. The South Lake Union committee, he says, has now jump-started the streetcar debate.

The committee's chair, Jim Falconer, was out of town and unavailable for comment.

amy@thestranger.com