Since 2020 Rainier Ave, just south of I-90, has seen multiple construction projects and fires throughout the area, including arson and encampment fires.
By Connor Nash
Rainer Ave has historically been known as one of the most dangerous streets in Seattle due to the high amount of car accidents and pedestrians being struck. But since 2020, Rainer Ave south of I-90 has also been scarred by several high-profile fires in the neighborhood.
The first flashpoint was the multiple fires at the former Rainer Farmer Market on the 2100 block of Rainer Ave back in 2020. Temporarily closed due to Covid, the farmer’s market was the target of four separate fires between July – August 2020. Unable to continually clean up and restore his business, owner Long Nygyen was forced to close permanently. By late 2021, Rainer Farmer Market was demolished.
Nygyen told King 5 News at the time, “I don’t want to throw all my five years away but at the same time Seattle is just changing.”
The next major fire would occur in May 2022 with the vacant Borrachini Bakery located just south of College St. Like Rainer Farmer Market, Borrachini was closed due to Covid-19, and the fire is still considered “Undetermined” according to Seattle Fire.
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, fires in vacant buildings account for 6% of all fires, but 43% of all intentionally caused fires.
Then in 2023, three fires would occur in the same parking lot in just a few months. Two were at the abandoned Burger King, destroying the building, and one at the former 7/11, destroying that section of the building and forcing the closure of the neighboring Baskin Robbin. Some of these fires were accidentally set by homeless individuals, others are still undetermined.
Five major fires in less than three years would hurt any neighborhood, but over 10 massive buildings were either built or under-constructed in that same period, showing that developers are not blinking.
The map below shows that changing environment of Rainer Ave between Massachusetts St and College St.
The red dots show the fires, black dots show the closed businesses not due to fires, and the orange dot is the future light-rail station. The purple blocks are all the new construction projects which will include nearly 1,000 apartments (roughly 10% affordable units) and thousands of square feet dedicated to retail space.
The city approved all of these projects because Seattle is desperate for all types of housing units. But those housing units are being built in an area that is unsafe for pedestrians, especially if they want to use the upcoming light rail station. The retail space may be nice for future businesses, but nothing is being done to support the existing businesses in the area.
All of that retail space may be a great investment for those buildings located in the purple blocks, but these developers are just flooding the market with unaffordable retail space that may be left vacant for an extended period.
On the other hand, the city is doing very little to support any of the small businesses already established in the area. Small businesses like Dixon Furniture and Dere Auto, along with independent eateries like Sasha’s Espresso and Toshio’s Teriyaki may be pushed out by this rapid construction. Or see a flood of new businesses, since the future is uncertain for the area.
Overall, the Seattle city government has been indifferent to the independently owned small businesses and franchises that it claims to champion in the area and the entire city.
Meanwhile, the site of the former Rainer Farmer market is under review for a new 7-story mixed-used commercial building. Since it is a shiny new building, the city will most likely approve it, only flooding the neighborhood with more unaffordable retail space.
By Connor Nash