The Little Saigon Landmark Feasibility Study was completed in October 2014. The study identifies potential sites, programming, and cost. You can download the study here to learn more.
Follow the link below to find out more on the neighborhood’s future!
History and Background
Seattle’s Little Saigon neighborhood is located in the International District just east of Chinatown. Mainly a small business district with approximately 125 businesses, most of them are in the food or service sector. About 70% of the businesses are owned by Vietnamese who came to the area as refugees starting in 1975. The neighborhood has about 110 residential units of which about half are market-rate condos and the other half affordable housing.
The area was essentially comprised of vacant buildings during the 60’s and 70’s. It became known as “Little Saigon” in the early 80’s when mom-and-pop shops began sprouting up as the Vietnamese refugees settled into their newly adopted country.
Currently, Little Saigon is a vibrant and vital social, cultural, and economic hub for the Vietnamese community in the Puget Sound area. There are approximately 55,000 people of Vietnamese-decent living in King County according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
External Challenges Facing Little Saigon
Little Saigon’s proximity to Downtown Seattle coupled with being a low-rise area makes it an especially attractive neighborhood for developers. Combine this with a recent major rezone of the South Downtown area (of which Little Saigon is a part of), the construction of the First Hill Streetcar line that passes through the neighborhood, and the impending major rezone of the Seattle Housing Authority’s 30-acre Yesler Terrace property, Little Saigon is facing displacement forces of tsunami intensity.
Livable South Downtown Rezoning (2011): changed the neighborhood’s mostly Industrial Commercial (IC) zoning to Downtown Mixed-Use (DMC/R) and allowed building height to go up to 160’ if certain criteria were met.
First Hill Streetcar (under construction): connects the International District light rail station to the future Capitol Hill station and passing through First Hill.
Yesler Terrace Rezoning Proposal (2012): Would increase residential density from 561 up to 5,000 units. Would add up to one million square feet of office space. Would add up to 180,000 square feet of retail. Would allow up to 13 high rise towers to go as high as 300’.
Internal Challenges Facing the Little Saigon Community
Facing all of these impending changes is a community that does not have any civic institutions capable of advocating and engaging on the community’s behalf. The small businesses are pinned to their shops and restaurants in a constant battle to stay alive with thin profit margins, fierce competition, and rising costs. The community-based nonprofits lack the capacity to address issues beyond the parameters of their programs. The religious institutions are fiercely independent and generally don’t involve themselves in neighborhood matters. The broader Vietnamese community is fragmented and has a weak tradition of community collaboration and partnership.
In light of the challenges on the ground, we integrated 3 main components into our strategic work plan:
- Educating stakeholders on issues impacting the neighborhood and community
- Building community capacity advocate and engage
- Engaging with elected officials and other decision-makers to push for specific deliverables