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Originally published Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Op-ed: Seattle City Council should move forward on South Lake Union rezone

The Seattle City Council is urged to approve the South Lake Union rezone without further delay so as not to jeopardize the growth potential of Seattle’s life-sciences industry.

Special to The Times

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THE Seattle City Council is deliberating on a rezone proposal that supports continued economic growth in South Lake Union. As written, the proposal allows developers to create additional height and density for employers and residents in exchange for a development fee that is equivalent to other downtown neighborhoods.

But some council members want to amend the proposal, resulting in higher fees for development projects in South Lake Union than in other Seattle neighborhoods. One question City Council members need to ask as they prepare to vote on this important legislation is:

What impacts will imposing additional fees — in excess of what is currently proposed and already in place in other neighborhoods — have on South Lake Union’s growing life-sciences and global-health sector?

When South Lake Union was designated as a Global Health Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ), the goal was to create a nexus of organizations creating new products and conducting lifesaving research in the areas of vaccines and immunology, cancer prevention and treatment, infectious diseases, medical devices and health technologies.

Today, Seattle boasts one of the fastest-growing life-sciences markets in the nation and is lauded as a top research center. According to the city of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, about 7,600 employees work for Seattle’s 55 biotechnology organizations, and many of these organizations call South Lake Union home.

These direct jobs also translate into more than 20,000 jobs after accounting for the life-sciences employment multiplier. From 2003 to 2010, life-sciences jobs in South Lake Union grew by nearly 350 percent at public institutions such as the University of Washington School of Medicine; nonprofit organizations such as Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and the Institute for Systems Biology; and private companies such as ZymoGenetics, Novo Nordisk and Nanostring Technologies.

An Office of Economic Development-commissioned report concluded that development in South Lake Union between 2001 and 2011 generated $137 million in new revenue for the city. Further, it estimated future development through 2022 will generate another $348 million — that’s nearly half a billion dollars in recurring general-fund revenues from taxes for the city, not to mention tax revenues allocated to the county and state.

We cannot afford to stymie an economic engine that is driving our city. Seattle has supported the investment of millions of dollars in public infrastructure improvements from the federal and state governments as well as private sources in South Lake Union. These investments were made to support the long-term goals of the IPZ and could be for naught should the City Council decide to impose inequitable fees in South Lake Union, or to delay voting on its rezone.

City Council should swiftly adopt the rezone, which has been in the making for eight long years. By proposing a last-minute unsubstantiated cost burden on development in South Lake Union, the council risks seriously jeopardizing our life-sciences industry, potentially thwarting the creation of new jobs, tax revenue and public benefits delivered from new development.

We urge council to act now, without further delay so the growth potential of one of Seattle’s leading industries that generates tax revenue, creates jobs and saves lives is not put in jeopardy.

Chris Rivera, left, is president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Kate Joncas is president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association.

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