"If it's a tourist piece that connects assets," Corrada said, "then have that in mind when you market and when you sell it and when you set the fares for it and how you are going to operate it. If it's a mass transit kind of piece that's functional for daily commuters, then you need to think of how you position that."
Creating a destination
On an average weekday morning, the Seattle streetcar is packed with passengers, many headed to jobs at several major employers, including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Amazon, the corporate heartbeat of the South Lake Union neighborhood for which the streetcar is named.
The route begins just above Seattle's downtown and central district and then follows a narrow 2.6-mile loop north. It runs on a double track, so rail lines are embedded on either side of the street and streetcar vehicles don't have to stop to pass each other.
A ride costs $2.50, more than double VIA's regular $1.20 bus fare, and passengers rarely have to show their tickets. Since the vehicle runs at street level, passengers don't have to climb stairs as they would on a bus, and the ride feels as smooth as taking an elevator up a modern high-rise building.
Service started in 2007, six years after Portland, Ore., ushered in the modern streetcar movement with the opening of its system. Portland's success, particularly in fostering economic development around the streetcar line, has made it the model -- and, often, the justification -- for similar systems across the country. Portland officials have said the streetcar line engendered $3.5 billion in investment within two blocks of it.
Seattle's streetcar proponents hoped for similar successes in South Lake Union, which for years consisted of acres of warehouses and vacant buildings. Crime was a problem, and there were virtually no residences and few amenities to draw anyone here.
"That place was a dump 10 years ago," said Heidi Happonen, a public relations professional whose firm works with Fred Hutchinson at the north end of the streetcar line. She recalls when a tire shop and guitar store were among the only operating businesses.
"It was not a place where you would go to spend an evening out; it was not a place you would typically spend time during the day unless you lived or you had business there," said Mike McQuaid, president of the South Lake Union Community Council.
But that started to change after Allen, through Vulcan, bought more than 60 acres in South Lake Union, about a third of the developable land.
He pushed for the streetcar system, and under his influence, the neighborhood started to transform. There are more restaurants and places to live. At one stop, the streetcar opens directly in front of an always-busy Whole Foods Market. A former asphalt plant located right off of South Lake now is a museum about wooden boats.
But even as the neighborhood thrived, people still questioned the streetcar line's purpose, said Ethan Melone, Seattle's streetcar program manager. Ridership was above projections, but those goals were modest.
Attitudes started to change two or three years in, as ridership went up and more jobs and residential units were added.
"It (streetcar) really supported the potential employment growth that we saw for the area," Melone said.
Annual ridership in 2008 was 451,000. By 2012, that had climbed to 792,879.
The arrival of the streetcar was one factor that helped spark even more development, said Lori Mason Curran, Vulcan Inc.'s real estate investment strategy director. Between 2004 and 2007, $900 million was invested in South Lake Union.
Since the streetcar opened, an additional $2.56 billion from public and private sources has been invested in the neighborhood, Mason Curran said.
She admitted it's difficult to say precisely how much of the neighborhood's success can be attributed to any one corporation or project. But the streetcar provided a transit link to the central business district that hadn't existed. Not long after it started, Amazon opened its headquarters here and now operates out of an 11-building campus that continues to expand. Now, the streetcar is almost an Amazon shuttle, with many of its passengers wearing the company's blue lanyards.