"If you talk to any of the people along the streetcar line, they'll say, yes, it's an amenity. Yes, it was a contributing factor into perhaps why they located where they were. But the deciding factor?" McDonaugh
"Saying it (the development) was because of the streetcar line is just not accurate."
McDonaugh's thinking reflects statements made by DiGiovanni. He and other downtown San Antonio stakeholders met with experts from cities that had pursued similar streetcar projects. Their advice: don't count on a streetcar to spur development where there is little to none. Rather, build a streetcar line that connects people to places where they want to go.
Seattle's streetcar provides that connection, linking South Lake Union to a busy transit plaza just north of downtown that's a hub for several bus lines; a light rail station is about a block away. That's significant in Seattle, where daily commutes often involve taking at least two forms of transit.
About two-thirds of Seattle downtown commuters don't drive to work, according to Commute Seattle, a nonprofit transportation management association. Of the commuters, 43 percent take public transit.
Seattle resident Lucy Blue takes the streetcar a few times a week to her job as a youth educator at the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union, connecting to it by bus from her house.
"There's not any place to park down here," Blue said.
But she added, "I do wish (the streetcar) went a few more places."
Streetcar ridership, though steadily growing, pales in comparison to other transit modes -- about 28,000 people on average rode the light-rail system on weekdays in 2012.
Average daily ridership on streetcar was 2,735 in July.
"Streetcars are kind of small ball in Seattle," said Zach Shaner, marketing and outreach coordinator for Commute Seattle. "They're economic development tools." Seattle's streetcar doesn't travel as far as the light rail, and it doesn't travel as fast because the vehicles move in mixed traffic and stop frequently, waiting 20 to 25 seconds at each stop. San Antonio's will operate much the same way, traveling at an average speed of 8 mph, Buchanan said, about how fast a bus moves through downtown.
To make the streetcar zippier, Seattle officials are planning a downtown line that will travel in its own right of way.
"My thought has been that if we're going to be adding a new mode such as a streetcar, it has to have benefits and advantages that go beyond the modes and the systems that we have now," said Rasmussen, the Seattle city councilman, and in "certain neighborhoods, the streetcar can."
Buchanan believes streetcar ultimately could help transform San Antonio's downtown, a tourist mecca but one where empty storefronts and vacant office spaces are common.
The comments once said about South Lake Union -- it was not a place a person would have reason to visit at night -- are similar to what's been said about the area around VIA's West Side transit center, west of Interstate 35, that will be a hub for the streetcar.
He compares San Antonio to Phoenix a decade ago, before that city opened a light rail system that is 20 miles long, about four to five times longer than San Antonio's streetcar will be. That area around the Phoenix line is now infused with activity, and ridership is well above projections.
"I'm not saying San Antonio's going to get to Seattle, but the same thing happened to Phoenix. It was dead," Buchanan said. But the environment changed with the arrival of rail. Soon, the system became a way of life.
"There's a population base that will ride the train every single day," Buchanan said.
Arguably, Seattle's streetcar has become a convenient transit mode for the growing number of people who live and work in South Lake Union. But the streetcar's usefulness for people who have no reason to come to what is essentially Paul Allen's neighborhood is questionable.
Although the number of jobs in South Lake Union has soared, downtown Seattle -- where the streetcar does not go -- remains the city's biggest jobs center, with 197,000 employees, Commute Seattle says.
Streetcar proponents say ongoing expansions of the streetcar network, including a downtown line, will make the South Lake Union route even more useful to riders.