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Originally published February 26, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified March 9, 2010 at 4:30 PM

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Neighborhood of the week

Rainier Beach builds on a proud past

This South Seattle neighborhood is seeing a growth spurt due to the arrival of light rail, affordable homes, new development and city plans to do even more.

Special to The Seattle Times

Rainier Beach

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 7.5 miles

Population: 5,327

Racial composition (2000 U.S. Census): African American, 31.1 percent; Asian, 28.7 percent; white, 10.6 percent; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 4.2 percent; American Indian or Alaska Native, 2.9 percent; two or more races, 15.7 percent; some other race, 6.8 percent.

Schools: The Rainier Beach neighborhood is served by the Seattle Public Schools.

Recreation: Kubota Gardens, 9817 55th Ave. S., a public garden owned by the city of Seattle and maintained by the Department of Parks & Recreation features 20 acres of hills and valleys, streams, waterfalls, ponds, rock outcroppings and a mature collection of plants.

The name: The actual beach at Rainier Beach no longer exists; it was a small bathing beach at the end of South Keppler Street from 1920 to 1936, according to the Seattle Parks Department. The former beach is now part of a residential area along Rainier Avenue South.

Fun fact: The area was once named Atlantic City, and had many of its namesake's features, including a pier and bathhouse.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf

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Waiting to catch the next light rail from the Rainier Beach Station to downtown on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, Angela Lane, 30, breaks into a big smile at the mention of her alma mater's athletic triumphs.

"Absolutely!" she beams.

Rainier Beach High School, or "Beach," has been a source of community pride for years, having won many basketball, football and track championships and seeing seven of its graduates become successful professional athletes — four in the NBA, one in the NFL, one in the WNBA and one in professional track, said the school's athletic director, Dan Jurdy.

And the basketball gym is now named Crawford Court after Jamal Crawford, the NBA star who paid for the renovation of the gym in which he played so many games.

Lately, however, city planners' efforts to transform the area's main intersection from urban blight into an "urban village," have engendered a different kind of community pride.

"It's visually nicer," Lane says of the renovations along Rainier Avenue South and South Henderson Street. "They've cleaned it up a lot and there's a lot more people down here now walking around. It's nice to see."

The city hopes its Rainier Beach 2014 Neighborhood Plan will create a "safe and pleasant neighborhood" that will "preserve and promote" its cultural diversity. Much of the plan's infrastructure has already been completed — including the community center, new South Shore K-8 school and large recreation field.

Rainier Beach High has a new 600-seat performing-arts theater. The Safeway shopping center has gotten a major makeover. The city library has been expanded.

Aging apartment buildings have been replaced with colorful apartments and town houses for rent, and a handful of condominiums and single-family homes that are now for sale. And sidewalks have been laid linking all four corners of the intersection to the new light-rail station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South at Henderson.

Project after project

"Change is coming to Rainier Beach, slow but sure," says Gregory Davis, 49, the president of the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition.

"The revitalization has been satisfactory, but it's in only one area. More needs to be done."

And more is being done. One project begets another as developers and nonprofits have joined the renewal effort, including a recent plan for 63 low-income apartments mixed with retail space.

Davis, who also serves as executive director of the Emerald City Outreach Ministry in Rainier Beach, says he envisions the community as a "Paradise by the water."

What many people don't know about Rainier Beach, says Daniel Bretzke, 48, a longtime area resident, real-estate agent and developer, is there was a lot to recommend it before the revitalization.

"Rainier Beach has some of the best restaurants in Seattle," he says, ticking off four of them before explaining: "I define a great restaurant as one that has consistently good-tasting food, where I don't need a bank loan to pay for it."

There's also nothing new about its lakeside beach park, marina, streams and trails and old cedar trees, and this oasis: Kubota Gardens, a 20-acre, world-class Japanese garden smack in the middle of Rainier Beach.

Variety, affordability

Two more selling points he makes to homebuyers, Bretzke says, are variety and affordability.

"A person can buy almost any age, style and price range in Rainier Beach, and they will probably pay less for it than most neighborhoods in Seattle," he says.

The neighborhood includes the south end of Rainier Valley with its modest-priced homes to the more valuable waterfront real estate squeezed between Rainier Avenue and Lake Washington, and the view homes on the hill in Upper Rainier Beach.

During 2009, 31 single-family houses were sold in the Rainier Beach area, ranging in price from $100,000 to $774,000, with a median price of $255,000, according to figures compiled by Windermere Real Estate.

And Bretzke cites these examples: new town houses within walking distance to the light rail from $229,000 to $260,000. A new single-family detached home for $325,000. A house with a lake or skyline view for $360,000. A Lake Washington waterfront home for $650,000.

"I think the housing market reached the price bottom in March 2009, when the housing market included mostly distressed properties, which sold near their land value," Bretzke says, adding:

"Today's market includes mostly homes ready for occupancy. There are only a few 'fixers' on the market. The real difference is in the quality of the homes on the market. The homes on the market six months ago needed major work. Now the homes are mostly move-in ready. Homes on the market today are in better condition, cheaper, and there are fewer in supply."

Land values

Bretzke has his own plans. In the next five years he hopes to build six "low-carbon footprint" town houses. He currently owns 19 rental units in Rainier Beach.

"I have been waiting for Rainier Beach to improve enough to support an interesting development. It is turning around," he says.

"The best thing Rainier Beach has going for it, is that the land values can still support development. There are still people interested in living here, and the city for the most part has kept its promise for infrastructure improvements as outlined in the plan.

"Now it is the developers' turn to make it happen."

Seattle Times desk editor Bill Kossen contributed to this report.

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