The fact that Amazon and three other South Lake Union businesses are paying $204,000, most coming from Amazon, to fund more frequent streetcar service during the afternoon rush hour, shows the importance of the streetcar, Mason Curran said.
"Amazon executives have told me that one of the reasons why they did buy that site, or buy property in that location, is the streetcar," said Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the city's transportation committee. "I think that's why Paul Allen and Vulcan wanted the streetcar. They wanted to make that neighborhood really attractive to prospective tenants or purchasers of property."
The University of Washington opened a medical research lab campus in South Lake Union. Almost 2,800 people are employed at Fred Hutchinson, one of the world's preeminent research institutions on cancer and HIV/AIDS prevention.
"I bet the IQ in South Lake Union per capita is higher than anyplace else on the planet," Happonen said.
The number of jobs in the area over the past 20 years has more than doubled by some counts, and now is closing in on 35,000, according to Vulcan estimates.
That growth would be like plunking USAA's entire San Antonio workforce of 16,400 people into downtown.
The city estimates more than 52,000 people are employed in San Antonio's central area, but that is defined broadly, extending south to U.S. 90, north to the Pearl Brewery, and into the West and East sides.
As noted, no private San Antonio developers or businesses have pledged money for the streetcar. And earlier this year, the City Council scrapped a provision that would have generated $15 million from private property owners along the future streetcar route because there wasn't enough support for the proposed funding plan.
Pat DiGiovanni, CEO of San Antonio's Centro Partnership, said in a recent letter to VIA that his organization will lead an initiative to secure between $10 million and $20 million in private-sector funding for the streetcar project. It's not yet clear where that money will come from.
VIA's Chief Development Officer Brian Buchanan said the transit agency is not actively pursuing relationships with the private sector but added that VIA is "obviously looking for any and all financial contributions to the project."
A deciding factor?
Tampa's streetcar bears little resemblance to Seattle's sleek, modern system. Ridership has steadily gone down, and the economic development benefits are debatable.
The streetcar itself is historic, made with vintage parts. Unlike Seattle, Tampa's streetcar mainly connects tourist and visitor attractions, not high employment areas. The line tracks the path of the Tampa waterfront, through an entertainment and retail area near downtown called the Channel District.
The rail line also passes several relatively new residential developments, condos and lofts. Then it turns north and heads to Ybor City.
To Michael English, all those new residences were built thanks to the streetcar.
"When the streetcar alignment was announced, property was still very cheap in that neighborhood," said English, president of the Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., the nonprofit that manages the streetcar. "It shot up immediately, and then the development boom started."
As in Seattle, the area around Tampa's streetcar offered minimal residential options before the rail line was built.
"You did not have but a speck of residential and now that's our residential growth area," said Donna Chen, director of marketing and communications for the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
In the mid-2000s, developers built more than 1,900 condos, lofts and apartment units in the Channel District, either on the streetcar line or within two blocks of it, said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa's administrator of economic opportunity. Today, he said those units are about 95 percent to 97 percent occupied.
In July, another 356-unit apartment complex, which is mostly complete, opened about two blocks from the line. Another 636 units are under construction or planned nearby.
But McDonaugh doesn't buy the argument that streetcar was responsible for the boom -- at least not by itself.
Developers built in Channelside because of the proximity to downtown and the waterfront, not the streetcar line. The cruise ship terminal and the aquarium, for example, could not have been located anywhere else.