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Originally published Friday, February 18, 2011 at 10:00 PM

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Neighborhood of the week

Neighborhood of the week: Brighton

This diverse neighborhood in South Seattle is often overlooked, but is looking ahead with hope and plans, many linked to the arrival of light rail.

Special to The Seattle Times

About Brighton

Population: About 5,500

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 6 miles

Schools: The Brighton neighborhood is served by Seattle Public Schools.

Recreation: Brighton Playfield, 6000 39th Ave. S. This 12.5 acre park, located next to Aki Kurose Middle School, includes ballfields, tennis courts, and a children's play area. Othello Playground, 4351 S. Othello St. This 7.6-acre park has a play area for children, basketball courts, open meadow, and a short walking path.

Fun fact: In the 1880s, a group of English immigrants arrived in the area and bought lots. They named the area Brighton Beach after a fashionable resort in East Sussex in England.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf

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In South Seattle it's not unusual to find a Vietnamese Buddhist temple on the same block as a West African mosque; an Ethiopian bakery just down the street from an Irish pub; a Cambodian market next to a Filipino Halo-Halo ice cream shop.

The neighborhood of Brighton is surrounded by such rich cultural offerings, particularly along the commercial corridors of Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Way South.

It was the medley of people from all over the world that astounded Mia Williams on her first visit to Seattle and caused her to eventually settle in Brighton. Williams, who is black, spent her childhood in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Houston, where she rarely saw white people, let alone people from other countries. "The South is very segregated," Williams said.

Seven years ago she found a home she and her husband could afford not far from the Aki Kurose Middle School Academy on South Graham Street, where she is the principal. Students, collectively, speak dozens of languages, and the school offers instruction in both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.

Living near her workplace affords Williams a heightened sense of connection. The students like to joke with her when they walk by her home on South Fontanelle Street.

In the warmer months, a neighbor swings by with his power mower to cut the grass.

"I love the community feeling," Williams said. "I go to the Othello Safeway, and everyone there knows my name."

Just south of the burgeoning Columbia City and lesser-known but blossoming Hillman City, Brighton is mostly under the radar.

Many call it simply South Seattle or Rainier Valley, or — increasingly — Othello, after the grassy, tree-filled, 7.6-acre Othello Playground, and the new light-rail stop between South Othello and South Myrtle streets.

Light rail is ushering changes into the neighborhood, which features a diversity of housing styles and prices that have dropped more over the past year than the Seattle-area average.

The median value of all single-family houses in Brighton, not just those that recently sold, was $248,800 in December, down 14.3 percent year-over-year, the Zillow Home Value Index shows.

That compares to a drop of 11.3 percent for single-family houses in the Seattle metro area, according to Zillow.

But many residents and developers see a bright future for the neighborhood, reflected in their projects and plans.

Longtime resident Mona Lee, 72, is awaiting a city permit to open a business adjacent to Othello Station.

"It's going to be a bike and coffee shop," Lee said. "People can drink espresso, and if they have bikes that need work, we'll repair them."

"My son happens to be a bicycle mechanic," Lee said. "We're bike enthusiasts. I go everywhere by bike."

She has lived on South Othello Street, near Rainier Avenue South, since 1997 and appreciates the area's evolution. She also is one of a growing number who, despite the official city map and the real-estate parlance, thinks of the neighborhood as Othello, not Brighton.

A member of the Othello Park Alliance, she looks forward to pending park improvements, such as the new lighting the city will begin installing this spring, a $250,000 project funded by a broader parks improvement levy. The Park Alliance also sponsors the annual summer International Music and Arts Fair which has in the past featured hula dancers, zydeco and a mariachi band and is seeking this year to become part of the Seafair festivities.

She regularly pedals up South Myrtle Street and hops onto the Chief Sealth Trail, or turns the other way to the shores of Lake Washington.

The new light-rail system allows her the freedom to get out into the world.

"I can take my folding bike down to the station, get on and go to the Amtrak station and go to L.A.," (she recently returned from that trip). "I can get on and go to the airport and go someplace," Lee said. "I just think it's wonderful."

Residents may praise the area's virtues, but real-estate prices don't necessarily reflect its assets.

Most Brighton homes lack the views afforded by Beacon Hill and the waterfront access of Seward Park. Some homes appear rundown and in need of repair.

But the neighborhood offers buyers priced out of those nearby communities an opportunity to own a home, said E.J. Gong, an agent with Windermere Real Estate who has sold a number of homes in the area.

"You've got some old homes, Craftsman-style homes, and some even older, turn-of-the-century homes that are cute," Gong said.

But as the housing market fell, it took places like Brighton down even further.

"That area is hurting more now than areas slightly closer to the city," Gong said.

On the other hand, such a market offers "a really, really good deal," Gong said.

For example, a single-story, six-bedroom 1911 Craftsman-style home, with three full bathrooms and a basement, on 48th Avenue South, was recently listed at $240,000.

And a three-bedroom, one-bath home on South Warsaw Street was recently listed at $144,000, dropping more than 25 percent from its early-December listed price of $200,000.

Brighton received a potentially transformative development after the Link light-rail station at Othello Street was completed in 2009. It now allows riders to get to downtown's Westlake Center station in 21 minutes and to Sea-Tac Airport in 15.

With those commuting options, those who don't want to buy in this market may be enticed to rent.

A new 351-unit luxury apartment development, the Station at Othello Park is offering studios, one and two-bedroom apartments that range from $877 to $2,170.

Some east-facing units offer views of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington, as does a 7,500 square-foot roof deck. As part of the city's Homes Within Reach program, one-fifth of the apartments are available to residents making 80 percent of median income or less.

The site for the development was chosen specifically because of the light-rail's proximity, said developer Steve Rauf, CEO of Othello Partners. He was inspired by his exposure to the ease of commuting on subways and trains in New York City and Europe.

"I really wanted to focus on transit-oriented development," Rauf said. He evaluated properties up and down the light rail's path, and decided that Othello Station had the most to offer.

"A key amenity is being within a quarter-mile of 20 acres of parks," Rauf said, rattling off Van Asselt Park, John C. Little Park and a green space in NewHolly, in addition to the adjacent Othello park.

"You've got a library, a police station, a community center, and 300,00 square-feet of existing retail in the neighborhood," Rauf said. The new development also includes retail space along the ground level.

Rauf also owns the property to the north, across Othello Street, where the former Citadel bowling lanes stand, empty. He's hoping that by March, his plan to use the space as an international public market, with 40 vendors already signed up, will come to fruition and create "destination shopping" that will draw consumers from outside the neighborhood.

Rauf also wants to eventually build another 350-unit building within the next two years, in which case, the market would move to another, nearby location.

Admittedly invested in the outcome, he sees a bright future for the area.

"I think it will become the heart of the Valley," Rauf said. "Not to pit ourselves against Columbia City, but there's just so much potential."

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