Neighborhood of the week: Auburn a "hidden treasure" — for now

Auburn used to be known as a blue-collar community.

Now, more upscale developments are sprouting in the south end of the city, and Auburn expects even more change within the next decade.

The city expects to nearly double in size within 10 years because of population growth and annexations, said Paul Krauss, the city's community-development director.

Most of the city is in King County, but annexations have expanded it into Pierce County. The 2004 population was 46,141. The number of residents is expected to grow to 80,000 to 85,000. As it grows, the city tries to keep the community feel of the town that was incorporated in 1891.

"In many ways, it's the antithesis of what people think of as a suburb," Krauss said.

Downtown, a collection of small stores — such as Comstock's Book Shop, Sam's Shoe Repair and Nelson's Jewelry — line Main Street.

City officials have been working on a revival of downtown for about 10 years and hope to turn Auburn into a destination for visitors. The city has the Emerald Downs racetrack, the Muckleshoot Casino, the White River Amphitheatre just outside of town, and a regional mall, and the most common approach to Mount Rainier is through the town, Krauss said.

Auburn also has a Sound Transit commuter-rail station so that residents or visitors can travel to Seattle by train in 20 minutes.

On a warm summer afternoon, few residents were walking downtown.

Carri Johnson and her 8-year-old daughter, Kourtni, rode a tandem bike along Main on their way to the Interurban Trail. Steffan Johnson, 11, rode a blue bike.

The family moved to Auburn five years ago when Johnson fell in love with the house the family now owns.

She calls Auburn "a hidden treasure."

"I never came to Auburn when I was younger. I thought it wasn't very nice," she said, voicing the opinion of many who have grown up in the Seattle area.

Now, the per-person annual income in north Pierce County is higher than on the Eastside of King County, Krauss said. In 2004, residents of the Pierce County piece of Auburn had an average income of $80,441, compared with $70,791 on the Eastside, according to a study for Auburn done by Hebert Research in Bellevue.

However, for Johnson, who lives in a neighborhood of moderate-sized homes, it's the friendly atmosphere and sense of community she appreciates about Auburn. She says she knows everybody in her 10-block neighborhood.

Everyone takes care of each other. When one neighbor was in the hospital and other neighbors noticed a sign posted on his door about his lawn growing too tall, the neighborhood got together and took care of the man's yard.

Auburn just doesn't feel like a big city.

"I just like that it's not so busy like Seattle," Johnson said.

On some Saturdays, the Johnson family drives to Green Valley Meats in Auburn to buy beef jerky. Try finding a real butcher and farm in Seattle.

Liona Tannesen:

Auburn's West Main Street is quiet now, but a population boom is on the way. (THOMAS JAMES HURST / THE SEATTLE TIMES)

Population: 46,141 (2004, city of Auburn)

Housing: Owner occupied: 9,324 (est.), 52.7%

Renter occupied: 7,696 (est.), 43.5%

Vacant: 665 (est.), 3.4%

Schools: Public schools are part of the Auburn School District, and the city has several private schools.

Nearby medical facilities: Auburn Regional Medical Center, 202 N Division / Plaza One

Shopping: SuperMall, 1101 SuperMall Way

Public facilities: Auburn has more than 30 city, county and state parks.

Golf courses: Washington National Golf Course, 14330 S.E. Husky Way: Auburn Golf Course, 29630 Green River Road; Jade Greens, 18330 S.E. Lake Holm Road

Other activities: Horse racing at Emerald Downs, 2300 Emerald Downs Drive; White River Amphitheatre, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Road

Staff researcher Miyoko Wolf