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Seattle traffic drove the military from this place. Now locals see in it an ‘opportunity of a lifetime’

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The National Guard says its 25-acre site north of downtown Seattle no longer serves its mission. A Chinese investor wants to buy it, but local officials have an unprecedented plan to turn that land into something special for Seattle and its visitors.

One weekend a month, members of the National Guard report to a site in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood, just north of the Magnolia Bridge. It’s full of military vehicles, some as large as semi-trucks.

Sergeant Major Sheletha Quillin Howard showed me around the property. “So, this is a standard Humvee,” she said, slapping one of the smaller vehicles. “She’s a good girl. She does the job.”

Quillin Howard said Guard members have to fight Seattle traffic to get to this site. Then, they climb into these military vehicles and fight traffic all the way down to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma or even to Yakima.

“You’re trying to get to a certain place at a certain time to do what you need to do,” said Quillinn Howard. “And having done this a lot, we incorporate the ‘oh craps’ in the schedule. But when you hit an ‘oh crap’ on top of an ‘oh crap,’ it’s like, ‘Oh, crap! We are not going to meet our target time.’”

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But traffic isn’t the only reason this 25-acre site no longer works for the Washington National Guard.

“We are unsat in this location,” said Quillin Howard, using the military jargon for “unsatisfactory.”

“We cannot satisfy the requirements of our mission,” she continued. “Because of this location, and where the Cascadia subduction zone is, Puget Sound is basically going to flood this place. And when this place goes underwater, there goes our ability to respond to the citizens of this state.”

The Washington National Guard wants to move this facility out to North Bend, out on I-90. The process of building a new facility there could take years, but the state goosed the process along considerably when it recently allocated funds to purchase a North Bend property.

But where some see problems, others see massive potential in the Seattle site. It’s right next to a future light rail line, an existing rapid ride line and cruise ships. A Chinese investor approached former Gov. Gary Locke about buying it, but Locke and politicians like Rep. Gael Tarleton (D-Seattle) don’t want to let the property slip away so easily.

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The Interbay site, as seen from the Magnolia Bridge

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“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” said Tarleton, who sits on an advisory committee that will recommend options to Gov. Jay Inslee this November.

Market forces would likely turn this property into public storage buildings, Tarleton said, or maybe another University Village. But she doesn’t want to see that happen.

“As local governments sell off public property into private ownership, we lose control of the ability to influence what comes next,” Tarleton said. “And this 25-acre piece of property is too crucial to the future growth of this city and region and state that we couldn’t put it in private hands.”

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State Representative Gael Tarleton outside the Interbay Whole Foods next to the Washington National Guard site.

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Tarleton’s pushing for something new with this property. She’d like the state to hang onto it, and she’d like a public authority, kind of like the Pike Place Market Authority, to run it.

Tarleton said this site could house high-tech manufacturing jobs, parks, restaurants and a community center —- and there would still be space for 3,000 to 5,000 people to live there.

Related read: Seattle may get a new neighborhood.

As for the problems that are driving the Washington National Guard away, new buildings can be engineered around earthquakes and even tsunamis. Someday, light rail will help with the traffic.

Tarleton said the neighborhood would thrive because it’s so close to Expedia’s new campus and to the cruise ship terminals.

“We are going to have an infusion of people who want to spend time in the city and they will have maximum access to multiple neighborhoods just by walking along the waterfront,” she said, “That’s what Interbay needs to be a part of.”

Experts are currently doing studies to learn what’s possible for the site and taking public comments.

There’s an open house about this property on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at the Ballard VFW Hall (2812 NW Market St.) at 6:00 PM.

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