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Originally published Saturday, May 2, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Neighborhood of the week

Downtown Renton

Downtown Renton is a blend of old and new on the shore of Lake Washington. Buyers are drawn to its convenience, affordability and recreational opportunities.

Special to The Seattle Times

Downtown Renton

Population: About 8,000 (Renton's total population is 78,780.)

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 12 miles

Schools: Renton School District

Recreation: Liberty Park at Bronson Way Northeast and Houser Way Northeast

is Renton's oldest park.Purchased from the Sartori family in 1914, it was first known as "City Park" and later changed to "Liberty Park" to commemorate World War I. The 12-acre park serves as the venue for the Renton River Days celebration each summer.

Historical fact: Renton is named after Capt. William Renton, operator of the Port Blakely sawmill on Bainbridge Island, who also was the underwriter of the Renton Coal Co. mine in 1873.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf


At one end are the shores of Lake Washington. Surrounding it on the other sides are a freeway and one of the busiest arterials around.

Inside this loop is a quaint, old-fashioned downtown and a mix of new and old homes, many with old-fashioned prices.

Been to the downtown Renton neighborhood lately?

If you're like many around here, you might have been through it.

Formerly one of Seattle's most overlooked and often disregarded neighbors, Renton has been reinventing itself in the new millennium.

As the home of the new Seahawks training facility, some of the region's top stores and the "Ahead of the curve" marketing campaign, the city is stepping up to be noticed.

The old and the new meet in the downtown Renton neighborhood, with most of the homes, businesses, parks and amenities built before 1940 or after 2000.

Streets of older single-family homes are right around the corner from shops and restaurants in historic buildings along South Third Street, along with new condo and apartment buildings and the Renton Transit Center and Piazza community park.

The neighborhood is bordered on the north by Lake Washington and popular Gene Coulon Park; to the west by Rainier Avenue's commercial strip and access to Interstate 405 and Highway 167; to the south by I-405, and to the east by the freeway and The Landing, an "urban village" of retail shopping, restaurants, entertainment venues and residential units.

In 2004, Boeing sold 46 acres of surplus land for the first phase of The Landing. The Renton Boeing plant has played a major role in the city's growth since it opened in the 1940s.

During 2008, 21 single-family houses were sold in downtown Renton, with a median price of $299,950, according to figures compiled by Windermere Real Estate. They ranged in price from $109,900 to $529,900.

"Most people buying a home here are attracted by the parks and the prices," says Jason Moore, of Windermere Real Estate's Renton office.

"There aren't many areas where you can live by the water at these prices."

Many of the buyers are younger and use the Renton Transit Center for an easy commute to work in downtown Seattle and other destinations, Moore said.

"I love the urban feel of downtown," and being able to walk to work, grocery stores and restaurants, says Elizabeth Stewart, a downtown resident and director of the Renton History Museum.

"I'm a fan of Evergreen City Ballet performances and other events at the Ikea Performing Arts Center [at Renton High School] and the local theater productions at Renton Civic Theater and the Carco Theatre."

Even those venues fit the old/new theme. Renton Civic Theater is a "1920s movie palace" according its Web site, the Ikea center is a recently added upgrade to Renton High School, which has been a city landmark for nearly a century.

The history museum, in an art-deco style former fire station built in 1942 at Mill Avenue South and South Houser Way, is the last existing structure in the area built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

"Until the 1930s, there were coal mines across the road, within sight of where our museum is," Stewart says.

Long before that, the Duwamish Indian tribe's village at the confluence of the Black and Cedar rivers was an important site for commerce at the site of present-day downtown Renton.

Lumber mills and the Renton Coal Co., founded in 1875 with the financial backing of Capt. William Renton, drew settlers to the area and the town was incorporated in 1901.

The 17-mile Cedar River Trail, which links Renton to Maple Valley, winds through 4 miles of downtown Renton and Cedar River Park, site of Carco Theatre, Renton Community Center and the Henry Moses Aquatic Center seasonal outdoor pools and water park.

Liberty Park, near City Hall and the library, includes ball fields, a skate park, tennis and basketball courts and picnic and play areas.

Stewart said she looks forward to the seasonal farmers' market opening in June.

"There's always something going on, Renton River Days in July, the fall Harvest Festival, neighborhood picnics. When I moved here from the East Coast, I was impressed right away with downtown Renton ... and being right in the heart of things. And three years later, I'm still impressed."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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