Pine St. Deal Up To City Council's Undecideds -- Nordstrom's Demand To Reopen Route Angers Public

They came, they lobbied, but did they conquer?

Nordstrom family members met privately again yesterday with Seattle City Council members to emphasize the importance to Nordstrom of reopening Pine Street to traffic.

Their message: Open it, or the company will walk away from an investment estimated at $100 million to convert the former Frederick & Nelson building into the new Nordstrom flagship store.

But despite the push, phone calls to the City Council switchboard were running 10-to-1 in favor of keeping the street closed.

Civic activist Peter Steinbrueck said last night that a coalition of groups would try to start a petition drive for a referendum to retain Westlake Park and keep Pine Street closed to traffic. He cited Allied Arts, the Sierra Club, Vision Seattle and the Neighborhood Community Federation as possible partners.

"We may not have the council votes (to keep the street closed)," he said. "The public is angry and ready to take to the streets over this. . . . I don't believe for a minute reopening Pine Street is critical to the economic success of downtown retailers. It's a bogus argument being used in an unfair, threatening way for reasons I'm not entirely sure of."

Mayor Norm Rice on Monday endorsed reopening Pine, reversing the position he took four years ago.

Rice yesterday said facts and circumstances have changed. Although Pine Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues has been closed to auto traffic since 1990, Rice said that there now are compelling economic reasons for reopening the street and that the park envisioned at Westlake didn't work out as had been hoped.

It's too soon to tell whether the Nordstrom delegation, which has met with a majority of council members, has the five votes it needs. The Rice administration plans to introduce an ordinance to reopen the street before the year is out.

The delegation, which included three Nordstrom brothers, made no bones about what it wants.

"They made it very clear that (reopening the street to traffic) is part of the price of their making the investment," said Councilwoman Jane Noland, who's undecided.

Said Nordstrom spokeswoman Kellie Tormey: "The reopening of Pine is a critical element in consideration of moving forward."

With two council members, Jim Street and Margaret Pageler, opposed to reopening Pine, and two others, Jan Drago and Cheryl Chow, in support of reopening it, the outcome will rest with the undecideds.

"I personally believe Nordstrom is sincere in wanting it (Pine Street) open," Street said. "I cannot believe that its opening or closing is, in fact, a decisive factor in the health of our retail core. . . . It's too bad that they're making that the deal-breaker."

Responded Drago: "If this deal doesn't go through, we're going to have a dark, empty block for the foreseeable future."

And added Jeff Rhodes, one of the developers: "Our stand, of course, is there's no project without Nordstrom, and Nordstrom has made their position clear as to where they stand. We're right with them."

Rhodes said that closed streets usually have a negative impact on retailing and that the Frederick's building would have been filled sooner if it hadn't been next to a closed street.

Elsewhere in the U.S., "the clear evidence is that downtown pedestrian-only malls do not work very well" and send business to the suburbs, said George Rolfe, director of the University of Washington's Center for Community Development and Real Estate.

He said pedestrian malls disrupt downtown circulation patterns, disrupt shoppers' searches for parking and push away retail traffic.

Not everyone in business agrees, however.

Betty Ackett, manager of See's Candies at 1518 Fourth Ave., said parking fees, not Pine Street, are what's really keeping people from downtown: "The most complaints we get are not about driving but the cost of parking. It's so expensive that many people just don't want to come downtown."

John Buller, vice president for marketing and sales at The Bon Marche, said he understands both arguments but sides with reopening Pine.

"There's a lot of feeling that it would help," he said, "that we should do what we can to get the traffic to circulate as much as possible. There are only so many traffic lanes downtown, and when you take some out, it just makes it harder to get around.

"Downtown Seattle has developed a reputation, which it doesn't entirely deserve, as hard to get to."

Seattle Times staff reporters Sylvia Nogaki and Rich Buck contributed to this report.