Back in 1996, Paul Allen pledged to put $20 million toward a 42-acre park known as the Commons. Voters--slated to pay ony about $34 each per year over five years-- rejected the idea. They believed the Commons was really a condo-developer ploy to hijack South Lake Union and displace businesses.
Fast-forward. Today, Allen is backing a plan to turn South Lake Union into a business hub. Surprise: The same naysayers smell a development ploy to hijack the neighborhood.
The contradictions? irony? hypocrisy? of this grating, knee-jerk, provincial anti-Allen position was exposed last week when South Lake Union property owner Mike Foley, the pro-neighborhood-business poster boy who penned an anti-Commons statement in the Seattle Times in '96, sold all his South Lake Union holdings to Allen. Rather than paying for a public park, Allen's $20 million simply went to Foley last week--buying three key acres.
Foley says his anti-Commons position in '96 doesn't contradict his sellout to Allen today. His argument back then was that South Lake Union should be used for business--a way to spark economic growth in the city--and not used for a park that drains public revenue. Selling land to Allen today, Foley told me, fits with that philosophy because Allen's current plan is to overhaul South Lake Union into a business park.
While I think Foley was wrong to argue against the Commons--nixing the park didn't exactly save the South Lake Union manufacturing base (with many people selling out to Allen anyway, and tenants leaving, employment has declined nearly 10 percent in South Lake Union in the past few years), at least Foley's consistent.
I can't say the same for the anti-Allen naysayers. They didn't want a public park because it was bad for business, but they don't want a business park either. The only common denominator is blind Allen-phobia. Pretty stupid.
Foley's departure from the fold highlights the flawed logic of the current anti-Allen crowd. His departure is also a bit of comeuppance for these same folks, who rejected the Commons on the grounds that it was just a Paul Allen plot. Instead of getting a public park connecting South Lake Union to downtown, the stage is now set to build a corporate park--complete with, you guessed it, condos--and a trolley (not green space) connecting South Lake Union to downtown.
The pro-Commons editorial that ran alongside Foley's anti-Commons editorial in 1996 was decidedly prescient on this possibility. Pro-Commons guy Peter Steinbrueck wrote at the time, "Will we allow developers to seize the South Lake Union area and build a solid wall of buildings, stretching from downtown to the lake shore? Or, will we save it for green grass, trees and open space?" Foley answered that question last week when he, like others have done since the Commons failed, sold out to Allen.