Wednesday, March 15, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pine Back On Road To Development -- Voters Endorse Reopening Street To Aid Downtown

Copyright 1995, Seattle Times Co.

Renovation of the Frederick & Nelson building and redevelopment of its garage into shops, theaters and restaurants is set to begin this time next year now that Seattle residents have voted decisively to reopen Pine Street.

Yesterday's vote was 61 percent in favor of reopening the street to 39 percent opposed.

Project supporters, including city officials and developers, were exuberant.

"I'm ecstatic," said Seattle Councilwoman Jan Drago, who campaigned actively to reopen the street. "It was a great and decisive victory."

Voters demonstrated that they "care about what's going on downtown" and were concerned about its decline, developer Jeff Rhodes said today. "This is about trying to reverse the trend and pump a little vitality back into the downtown."

A Seattle Times poll of 200 city residents taken just before the election showed that about half of those who favored reopening the street believed it was necessary to save downtown.

However, many poll respondents - including about 40 percent of those who said they intended to vote for the measure - said they didn't know if the reopening was really necessary but that they didn't want to jeopardize Nordstrom's plans to move into the abandoned Frederick's building on Fifth Avenue.

Ruth Nelson, 41, a Fremont attorney, described her decision to vote to reopen the street as a close call.

"Nordstrom was being a rat," she said. "They have yet to . . . give me a really good, clear reason why they need it (the street to reopen)." In the end, though, she decided to defer to downtown retailers' desires. "They're the people trying to run businesses down there. They're familiar with what they need . . . and I'm not."

Nordstrom executives had demanded the reopening of the street as a condition for proceeding with a $100 million renovation of the Frederick's building.

The Nordstrom deal has been considered crucial to a larger $400 million redevelopment plan for three blocks within the city's retail core, which is expected to draw other national retailers to nearby downtown blocks.

Today, downtown businesses praised the vote to reopen Pine.

"I'm very, very delighted about it . . . because it's obvious that it was hurting downtown," said Craig Rhyne, owner of Rhyne Precious Metals at Fifth and Pike. Rhyne said he had planned to move if the street wasn't reopened because traffic congestion was keeping customers from his store.

Merchants at the Pike Place Market also said the closure had hurt business, by making it more difficult for Capitol Hill residents - a key constituency - to get to the Market.

The portion of Pine between Westlake Park and the Market "won't be such a dead space now," said Nancy McFaul, who owns The Crumpet Shop with her husband. "I think it will really help."

Downtown boosters said the voters' decision will jump start the local economy by creating 2,800 jobs and by generating more than $105 million in tax revenue to the city over 15 years once the project is up and running.

Opposed to reopening Pine is a group of community activists calling themselves Friends of Westlake Park that waged a low-budget, media-savvy campaign to keep the street closed.

The group contended the street's reopening was not necessary to ensure retail success and that the park was one of downtown's few open spaces and a favorite place for people to congregate.

Daniel Norton of Friends of Westlake Park said today the group's seven-member board would meet next week to discuss a variety of options - including legal action, joining the Pine Street Task Force to shape the street's design, or pressing forward with a fall ballot initiative. Speaking for himself, Norton said he thought the last option was least likely given the voters' pronouncement.

Last night, another of the group's leaders, Seattle attorney Rick Aramburu, asserted that Citizens to Restore Our Retail Core - which had raised about $275,000 for its campaign to reopen Pine - "essentially bought the election with special-interest money." Friends of Westlake raised about $2,000.

Seattle attorney Gerry Johnson, who represents the developers, called Aramburu's charge "disappointing. . . . It does a disservice to the voters."

"We're very pleased with the margin," said Johnson of the vote. "This is a very decisive demonstration that voters thought long and hard about this and, in our view, made the right decision."

Johnson also pointed out that outspending the opposition is no guarantee of success. He noted that proponents of the regional transit proposal also vastly outspent opponents, but didn't secure a win.

"We outworked them in addition to outspending them," Johnson said. "We had over 200 (volunteers) working last weekend."

Two-thirds of the respondents in The Times poll said their shopping trips downtown would remain the same if the street reopened. About one-fourth said their trips would increase. The poll was conducted last weekend and has a margin of error of 7.1 percent.

The Pine Street issue has divided the city sharply since November when Nordstrom announced it would abandon plans to convert the old Frederick's building into its flagship store unless the city agreed to permanently reopen Pine between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The block has been closed to traffic since it became part of Westlake Park in 1990.

Developers said if Nordstrom walked away from the plan, they would withdraw from the $400 million downtown redevelopment project.

What was perceived as Nordstrom's ultimatum did not sit well with many voters, even though many other downtown merchants, including the Bon Marche and organized labor, rallied behind Nordstrom.

Just under half of the poll respondents said they thought Nordstrom was being heavy-handed in the debate.

"I don't particularly care for the smoking gun that Nordstrom is holding to the city . . . to open the boulevard again," said Michael Pitton, 39, who was undecided but leaning toward approval.

Last night, Nordstrom spokeswoman Brooke White noted that the $100 million the retailer expects to spend to refurbish the former Frederick's site could instead have been used to "build, two, three, or four stores (elsewhere)."

The need to open the street was "purely a business decision."

Sensing anti-Nordstrom sentiment, political advisers decided earlier this month that it was necessary for the Nordstrom family "to make a statement," political consultant Wally Toner explained yesterday.

The result was a family note included in a direct mailing to 65,000 voters last week saying that were it not for the family's deep Seattle ties, it would not consider making the $100 million investment.

In January, the City Council approved opening the street at Mayor Norm Rice's request. It placed the question before voters after Friends of Westlake Park pressed forward with plans to file an initiative to keep the street closed - a measure that wouldn't have made the ballot before September.

Pine Street is expected to reopen early next year at the same time work begins on the Frederick's building and the garage block.

"We'll certainly survive in the meantime," said Pat DeLaurenti, co-owner of DeLaurenti's specialty foods in the Market. "But we look forward to having it easy for people to access the Market and this whole area down here."

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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