The U District Plans for a Bright Future Post-Pandemic

For UW students, alumni and local residents alike, the U District has long been a hub for small businesses, international cuisine and relaxed spots to meet up with friends and enjoy the neighborhood. But like so many others, the neighborhood was hit hard by the pandemic, causing a rash of business closures, an increase in graffiti and the loss of vital amenities for the homeless population in the area.

But now, the U District is planning for the future. With the opening of the U District light rail station this month, many restaurants and small businesses have eagerly anticipated the return of foot traffic to the neighborhood. This, along with UW’s return to in-person instruction, has given the neighborhood plenty to look forward to.

With the new light rail station, a portion of Northeast 43rd Street near 15th Avenue is now reserved for bikes and busses. This change has allowed a local nonprofit, the U District Partnership, to install a new outdoor dining plaza in the area. Local restaurants are taking advantage of the outdoor seating to rethink their dining options, with some pivoting to takeout-only formats that work well with customers passing through the neighborhood. Another local group, the U District Advocates, installed a temporary dining area between 42nd and 43rd streets; some businesses reported that these changes actually increased their profits during the summer over pre-pandemic levels.

In addition to the changes on “The Ave,” the U District is also revving up to provide more housing for UW students in the area. Within the next 5 years, up to 22 new towers could be added to the area, thanks to a 2017 rezoning that allowed for buildings up to 320 feet tall in the neighborhood.

The first of these new high-rises will be the M Seattle, offering 24 stories of luxury student housing. Two more towers are also currently under construction in the neighborhood.

This development could offer housing for more than 7,000 new residents. Along with housing, the construction could provide around 1 million feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of ground floor businesses north of Northeast 41st Street.

The University of Washington is also expanding its West campus, which will be called Portage Bay Crossing. The new 3 million square foot development will include office, retail and gathering places for students and the community alike. It’s envisioned as an “urban neighborhood” and will feature a proposed 7.5-acre greenspace along with waterfront access and 12 additional high-rises.

Despite the trials of the pandemic, it’s clear that the U District is bouncing back. Businesses, residents and students alike should prepare for a bright future as the neighborhood continues to grow and evolve.

This article was originally posted on UW News by Misty Shock Rule.

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