St. Louis interested in vintage Seattle streetcars
Last week, a St. Louis trolley representative was in Seattle to look over those warehoused waterfront streetcars that carry so many emotions for locals here, and Metro is willing to listen on a possible sale. The future of the vintage trolleys in Seattle grows dimmer.
Seattle Times staff reporter
More bad news for those five beloved, 1920s waterfront streetcars that draw such emotional responses from Seattleites.
They could well be heading out of town.
The streetcars have been warehoused out of sight near the Metro bus complex just east of Safeco Field for the last seven years.
But at least they were still here, even if in limbo, as lonely reminders of the city's quirkier past, giving hope to their fans that something could be done to save them.
Now it turns out that if you're interested in buying them — yes, getting them out of here — Metro will give you a showing.
Go ahead, make 'em an offer.
Just last week, Doug Campion, project manager for the Loop Trolley in St. Louis — a $43 million project that will run vintage streetcars, and is set to begin construction later this year — came to town to look them over.
Campion says about Seattle's elegant streetcars, constructed with beautiful Tasmanian mahogany and white ash, "They've taken very good care of them. They're certainly very nice."
Now he's back in St. Louis, putting together the numbers.
Metro says it'll listen to an offer.
Jim Jacobson, Metro's deputy general manager, says the classic trolleys "would be better served by serving people than having them parked."
If the St. Louis group decides to make an offer, it wouldn't be for any huge dollars.
"There is no market for them. Some cars in decent condition have sold for $20,000. Some places are virtually giving them away. They can't afford to operate them anymore," says Campion.
He says that these days, cities that put in streetcars go for the modern ones with low floors so they are level with boarding platforms.
That would put the value of the five waterfront streetcars at a total of maybe $100,000, about the cost of four new Toyota Sienna minivans.
Still, the St. Louis group obviously finds old-time streetcars a worthwhile investment.
"It has to do with going back to 1904 and the St. Louis World's Fair. Streetcars brought people to and from the fairground," says Campion.
Now, he says, the vintage trolleys are seen as part of revitalizing the city, and taking customers to and from restaurants, clubs and venues.
"The streetcars will be an attraction all by themselves," says Campion.
But as detailed in a story in The Seattle Times on Monday, the old streetcars aren't a priority in the new vision for Seattle by city officials, who gave a $6 million contract to a Manhattan firm for a new Seattle waterfront design. Drawings provided by the firm had smiling people enjoying a promenade, but no streetcars.
So, says Jacobson about the streetcars, "with no known future use for them," his agency has to figure out where to store them once the current warehouse is needed for other uses. Jacobson says that'll happen "in the next couple of years."
Jacobson estimated renting a warehouse to store the streetcars and all their spare parts could run $50,000 to $70,000 a year.
He says that in past years, representatives from Tucson, Ariz., and Lake Oswego, Ore., have expressed interest in the streetcars, but nothing happened.
Any sale of the streetcars would require approval by the Metropolitan King County Council.
Frank Abe, a spokesman for County Executive Dow Constantine, says, "We would love to find a local buyer and operator for the streetcars." He also says, "We would work with anybody who could put them to good use."
County Councilmember Joe McDermott says he'd vote to sell the streetcars at market rate. He says, "I don't see us using antique streetcars in the city again."
That leaves a waterfront-streetcar proponent like Tom Gibbs with one suggestion to all those people so emotionally attached to the old trolleys: "I would let the City Council know."
Gibbs does know a bit about dealing with public officials.
He is a former executive director of Seattle Metro, the agency that not only led the cleanup of Lake Washington and Elliott Bay, but the startup of today's Metro Transit.
He is currently on the board of directors of the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District and helped lead an effort that eventually ended up in a feasibility study issued last year for putting the streetcars back on the tracks. That study now sits on the Internet http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2012/06/18/2018468390.pdf.
Gibbs says he doesn't mind all those streetcar lovers contacting him. His email is: email@example.com.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org