Eclectic Ballard comfortable — but pricey

Ballard is still coming to terms with being cool. According to real-estate agent Deborah Arends, "everything has changed" in the 14 years she has lived in the northwest Seattle neighborhood.

"It used to be a place people came because it was cheap," Arends said. "Now anything called Ballard is pricey."

Roughly defined as north of the Ship Canal, south of Northwest 105th Street and west of Eighth Avenue Northwest, Ballard has come to be seen as an eclectic, family-friendly neighborhood.

There were 61 galleries, shops and other businesses open for Ballard's most recent Second Saturday Art Walk. The Sunday Farmers Market amid the historic brick facades of Ballard Avenue offers seafood, cheese, organic fruits and vegetables, crafts and flowers. The crepe stand does great business, and couples happily eat sitting on the curb watching the street market's bustle.

Ballard is a hip neighborhood that is still most comfortable wearing T-shirts and jeans. Resident Tom Knee said the maritime and industrial core is precisely what attracts people. "It keeps the neighborhood honest," he said.

Even the industrial businesses are finding ways to keep up with the changes. Family-owned Ballard Oil, a landmark on the docks for 60 years, has a quirky set of daily headline news links on its Web site. And Dr. Dan's Alternative Fuel Werks, on Northwest 50th Street, offers a local source of biodiesel.

Sara Wise of the architecture firm Edge said the neighborhood's mixed use is crucial.

"I can walk down the street to talk to the steel guy instead of exchanging a bunch of faxes," she said.

Wise loves the juxtaposition of shops.

"There is an organic gardening store next to a galvanizing business next to a brewery where you can get a great lunch for $5.50," Wise said.

The walkability of the neighborhood is important for a small company, Wise said, and most of the company's employees walk or bike to work.

"If people feel comfortable walking in off the street, it builds a connection to the community," she said.

Doris Twiford moved from Everett because she wanted to retire in a community where she was "able to walk everywhere." She willingly waited a year for a spot in the Ballard Place Condos.

Knee bought in Ballard to be close to his boat at Shilshole Marina. Now he wouldn't think of living anywhere else. He says that even if other neighborhoods are geographically closer to downtown, "commuting is not really distance but time."

He lives 13 minutes from his Belltown office. "There are three stop lights and then I'm on 99," Knee said.

Angie Hofeldt and Jason Hall are leaving Capitol Hill to buy their first house. The small-town feel of Ballard attracts Hofeldt; it means being in the city without being "surrounded by the craziness."

But many first-time buyers may be priced out. Arends recommends the Green Arbor area north of 85th Street and northwest of Holman Road as one of the few spots where bargains still show up.

As the cost of real estate rises, industrial businesses might be pushed to look elsewhere for cheaper rent and more space. For many, that would be unfortunate because each piece of Ballard seems crucial to its character.

This northwest Seattle neighborhood, home to a funky mix of art and industry, is considered family-friendly.

Population: 47,748 (2004 est.)

Median home price: $432,000 (2004)

Nearby medical facilities: Swedish Medical Center/Ballard, 5300 Tallman Ave. N.W.


Ballard Sunday Farmers Market: Summer Outdoor Street Market, Ballard Ave., Summer 10 a.m.-4 p.m., April — November

Archie McPhee: 2428 N.W. Market St.

Places to go

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks: 3015 N.W. 54th St.

Golden Gardens Park/Beach: 8498 Seaview Place N.W.

Nordic Heritage Museum: 3014 N.W. 67th St., 206-789-5707; hours: Tues-Sat: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun: noon-4 p.m.

Majestic Bay Theatres: 2044 N.W. Market St.

Miyoko Wolf