Photo by Peggy Sturdivant

At Large in Ballard: Fido

By Peggy Sturdivant

“You’re just not a happy person are you?” said the young man who had jumped out of a large Recreational Vehicle with a generator beside it.

One minute before I had been walking my bicycle along the sidewalk with a friend, discussing a movie that we’d both loved. Exercise class behind us, the day stretched ahead with all the possibilities promised by the cloudless sky, scented azaleas in bloom and breakfast waiting at home.

Then we came abreast of an RV parked in what’s usually a 30-minute free parking spot for Ballard Square customers. Its sides are adorned with photographs of the monolithic structure rising around the Spirit gas station at the corner of 24th and Market Street. I’d seen the RV there over the previous week with its proclamation: Set Your Course for AMLI Mark24!

What disrupted our conversation was the noise of a generator running on the west side of the billboard on wheels. As we paused a young man bounded down the steps, wearing skinny pants, a pink shirt and a pastel blue tie. “How do you like our van?” he asked.

“I don’t like it all” I said. “Especially the generator noise.”

He made a sympathetic face. “We need it to run air,” he said.

I didn’t want him to think we could be prospective clients in the AMLI mobile leasing world. “I’m not a good person to sell on the building,” I said, turning and pointing over my shoulder, at seven stories still covered in Tyvek paper.

“But it’s exciting,” he said. “This area is on the verge of change.”

“It strikes me as wildly out of scale even for the commercial zone,” I said, as my friend looked worried.

That’s when he said. “You’re just not a happy person, are you?”

Feeling slapped, when I wanted to do the slapping, I replied, “You’re not from here, are you?”

“No,” he said. “I’m from the South. From Atlanta actually.”

I thought Southerners were known for their manners.

To the AMLI salesperson’s credit he got me interested in researching the building now at the leasing stage. I had attended the Design Review meetings back when it was making its way through the loopholes of the Seattle’s planning and development office. I was there for the discussions about the garage exit onto Market Street versus 56th NW and the impacts on residential streets.

Later I’d written about how Ballard Mailbox made the best of the situation. I’d been asked to check on Harold at the Spirit Station. I certainly remembered when Jacobsen’s Marine sold the site, saying their customers were no longer from Ballard.

AMLI Mark24, as it’s now named, looked huge in the drawings but they didn’t do justice to its height. Topped out you realize that view to the northwest sky is gone, along with that corner of Ballard’s marine industrial past. The Spirit Gas station looks as surrounded as Edith Macefield’s old house.

The first Internet hit for Mark24 was for a World War II weapon, nicknamed Fido, a passive acoustic anti-submarine torpedo used very effectively 304 times in 264 battles. By amazing coincidence AMLI Mark24 is going to have 304 apartments! AMLI (its acronym never explained) is based in Chicago; their website emphasizes development, acquisition and management of luxury apartment communities across the United States. Mark24 will be their 4th in the Seattle/Bellevue area.

Contrary to my AMLI friend’s pronouncement most everyone I know would check the happy person box next to my name; my friend Martina opined that I’m overly perky. I take out-of-towners to look at the periscope in the library I still consider new. I love watching kids get sopping wet at Ballard Commons and always stop smell baguettes baking at Tall Grass. I applaud the one-year anniversary of Nyer Urness House. And after all, as a person in my 50’s I live at the intersection of change.

I just don’t want Ballard to become a place that doesn’t have room for seniors on fixed incomes and families who would like to afford a first-time home. The new places are expensive and either aggressively luxurious or aggressively hip. Places like Lockhaven had community clotheslines these new buildings promote sky decks with dog runs and outdoor entertainment centers. The rent for a studio at AVA, on the site of the former Sunset Bowl, starts at $1300.

At last week’s first neighborhood summit convened since the Rice administration there were many citizens, community groups asking questions of City of Seattle departments based on their main concerns. I think the overriding question should be, what kind of city do we want to be? How do we keep Seattle a city of neighborhoods? Ballard was built because there were jobs and the workers could afford to live here. Now we are becoming a place of luxury apartments where our grocery clerk, our barber, our plumber, our seniors cannot afford to live. That’s a change I don’t like; this building boom isn’t bringing jobs to Ballard.

It seems like Ballard is becoming a bar and bedroom community. But whose bar? Whose bedroom?

Contrary to Mr. RV’s pronouncement I am generally a very happy and contented person; especially when I feel I live in a city that can incorporate change without sacrificing its roots and respond to its citizens. But right now, I’d just be happy if AMLI Mark24 cut the generator.

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