Putting the Dog Down

The luxury seats wait outside Greyhound's decrepit Seattle station at Eighth and Stewart.

The crowd waiting in line at the Greyhound terminal on a recent afternoon curlicues with tired efficiency. There's no security check-in and no TSA screening, just painfully obvious plainclothes cops. Banners overhead proclaim "The New Greyhound," but that only applies to the shiny coaches outside. (In one makeover scheme, the company had a bus pimped out by Funkmaster Flex; sadly, it never came to Seattle.) This is a dismal, depressing building that invites you to leave, not stay. A daylight rape occurred on the premises just last month, and the Seattle Police Department has written 67 reports for that address in the last year. In the increasingly affluent Denny Triangle downtown, the 80-year-old building on Stewart Street is looking more and more like a mangy, unwanted stray—an endangered species, in fact. A block west on Virginia, the Cosmopolitan condominium, where the units top out at $1.9 million, is close to opening. A block east on Olive Street, the R.C. Hedreen Company's Olive 8 tower is currently rising to 39 floors of luxury living. Anchoring the Triangle is Paul Allen's showcase 2200 Westlake development, a cluster of deluxe condo and hotel towers arrayed above a water feature and Whole Foods. Needless to say, the brochures for these swank developments don't list "Close to Greyhound terminal!" among their amenities. Hedreen—developer of the nearby Elliott Grand Hyatt among many other trophy properties—also happens to own the land beneath Greyhound's weary feet. Greyhound sold the property in a 1987 restructuring (one of several for the often-troubled company). Hedreen now owns about three-quarters of the block. Greyhound has a long-term lease, according to Hedreen President David Thyer. But provisions allow the lease to be dissolved on relatively short notice, he says. "It's a site with a lot of potential," Thyer adds. "It's no secret the city creeps that way," meaning north from the already built-up retail core. "Greyhound is the next piece of that trend. Our intention is to look at a phased development that would only include a part of the block." Greyhound sits on the section where an office tower is planned. But, Thyer cautions, "We're not forcing their hand today." Greyhound is worried enough to be making contingency plans and looking for city help. The company owns a bus barn nearby on Denny Street, but that area's quickly becoming just as much of an upmarket condo-retail-office district. For that reason, the company's looking for another way out. "We've recently met with city [of Seattle] representatives with regard to the city buying our maintenance garage," says Greyhound spokesperson Dustin Clark. "We are seeking an assist from the mayor's office . . . to relocate our maintenance garage and our terminal to one location. We would like one central facility." Regarding such a deal, Seattle City Light's Sung Yang confirms, "We've had that conversation." Ultimately the City Council would have to sign off on the purchase for a much-needed new electrical substation. What about a land swap for a new Greyhound depot in a different locale? "That's not the typical way we would approach a piece of property," says Yang. Implicit in these hush-hush negotiations is the fact that other buyers may approach Greyhound; Allen's Vulcan Inc. recently bought a comparable plot nearby for $14.87 million. Clark says Greyhound isn't about to abandon the Seattle market, though it has already reduced the number of destinations in Washington state from over 50 to 34. This is consistent with the company's remarkable two-year turnaround from bankruptcy, achieved largely by cutting 15 percent of its staff and one-third of its routes nationwide. Clark reports that almost 400,000 ticketed riders passed through the Stewart Street terminal in 2005, up 40 percent from the prior year. (That compares to about 100 million riders who took Metro during the same period.) Seattle—the nation's 30th largest city—accounted for less than 2 percent of Greyhound's passengers nationwide in 2005. If Greyhound sells the Denny bus barn to the city, the company's priority is consolidation, not location. "In some cities we are downtown, and in some cities we aren't," says Clark. Not being discussed is one of Greyhound's spiffy new "intermodal" hubs, where its buses can deposit riders close by other transportation links. In both Everett and Tacoma, for instance, the company has locations near Sound Transit portals. "We don't instigate intermodal developments," Clark notes, and apparently there are no such overtures coming from our local government. The City's options and incentives for Greyhound are limited, of course, by familiar real-estate pressures. A perfect new depot might be near the downtown bus tunnel's south end, near the International District. There you have Sound Transit's commuter rail line to Everett and Tacoma, as well as Greyhound's perennially abused, derelict federal cousin—Amtrak. Greyhound's Web site actually lists a stop at Amtrak's pigeon-shit-bedecked King Street Station, but none exists. An Amtrak ticket agent told me that potential rail-bus connectors often have to be turned away in disbelief: "It blows people away." Greyhound would make sense here. Only problem—all the land is already taken by other transit agencies and/or sports stadiums. If you stand on the railway overpass above Qwest Field's north parking lot, there's an excellent expanse of pavement at grade with Amtrak's hard-to-find public entrance. Oops—King County just sold that parcel to Nitze-Stagen for condos, apartments, and retail. A plan to lid the rails along Fourth Avenue South is also being floated—but not to serve buses, of course. All of which leaves Greyhound's customers lined up at a shabby, rundown holdout, and having to be grateful even for that. bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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