A face-lift for Beacon Hill

Dirty streets and storefronts detract customers, an obvious fact well known to members of Beacon Hill's Chamber of Commerce. However, when finances are tight and there are no free working hours, cleaning things up to boost profits drops to the low priority list for many of the small, family-owned stores populating Beacon Hill's business district.

"Typically, the way a small business operates is that we don't have the luxury of a cleaning department," noted Jackie Lum, owner of an Edward Jones Investments branch on Beacon Hill.

Fortunately for Lum and his business neighbors, Mayor Greg Nickels and Seattle's Office of Economic Development (OED) have created a partial solution for their messy street problems. In early August Nickels announced the awarding of 15 grants to neighborhood business districts around Seattle drawn from fund totaling $156,624.

"Small businesses are the heart of every neighborhood and a major economic driver in our community," said Nickels. "Investing in our neighborhood business districts is a big step towards ensuring a thriving economy. In the greater Seattle area, more than 62,000 small businesses employ almost a half million people with a total payroll of more than $15 billion."

After the program was announced, OED grant officer Jennifer Davis-Hayes reported her office received proposals exceeding the available amount by over three times. In the end, 15 of the city's small business centers had their proposals approved, including the Beacon Hill Chamber of Commerce, which was awarded a modest sum of $5,000.

A financial seed

While the awarded amount is less than stunning, both Lum and his fellow chamber member Neil Wilson feel the grant money will help their organization attract donations from other members to build a sustainable beautification fund for eligible neighborhood businesses

"What [the chamber] is trying to do is make it easier," said Lum, who feels the combination of public and private funding will do more than just defer cleaning costs. "We're coordinating our program with what's already in place, [which is] the adopt-a-street program and a facade improvement program," said Lum. "We're [also] coordinating our funding sources."

Basically, the program will grant discounted cleaning services to eligible businesses in the target area, which spans from South Spokane Street to South Holgate Street and between 14th Avenue South and Beacon Avenue South. To date, the Beacon Hill plan models itself after recent improvements to the area, such as the Beacon Hill Library remodel.

The chamber's role in implementing the program is to market it, said Davis-Hayes. By going door-to-door and making phone calls to inform businesses and property owners in the target area they are eligible, the chamber hopes to have a large turnout for the service.

"We're really supportive of the Beacon Hill Chamber of Commerce and we're trying to help them find funds so that they don't have to solely look to the government," said Davis-Hayes.

Both Lum and Wilson feel the fund will naturally attract other people and organizations to support the area's ongoing beautification efforts with donated cash and materials. Additionally, Lum and Wilson hope the chamber will be able to pitch its program, once it starts doling out cash for improvements this October, to other city departments with the hope of garnering more financial support.

Standing out

Though many business districts in Seattle have implemented programs to become more attractive to both consumers and entrepreneurs, Lum and Wilson feel Beacon Hill's program stands out in the improvement-movement crowd with its multi-faceted attack on urban decay. Davis-Hayes echoed this sentiment by stating that Beacon Hill's diverse funding sources for this project, as well as the window cleaning and graffiti removal aspects, make it unique compared to other business district improvement projects around the city.

Davis-Hayes feels the graffiti removal service in particular will provide the most noticed, and significant, improvement to the Beacon Hill business district. Steve Sherman of Beacon Hill's Good By Graffiti, a firm specializing in removing the unwanted swirls of spray paint, strongly backed her notion.

"Beacon Hill does have a family aspect," asserted Sherman, who believes people are strongly influenced by aesthetics. "If I'm on the street and removing graffiti, I easily get five or 10 people a day telling me I'm doing a good job."

Along with the graffiti removal and window cleaning, the chamber's plan includes awning cleaning and measures to cut down on the dust kicked up by the city's light rail construction project. In comparison, Davis-Hayes's office states improvement projects from other areas of the city including business district promotional brochures, tree trimming, public bench installation, and analytical studies of the district's layout.

Ultimately, Lum, Wilson, and Davis-Hayes feel the initial round of facade cleaning and graffiti removal will both increase customer traffic through the Beacon Hill business district and increase the number of businesses interested in the program.

"It's not brain surgery," asserted Lum. "We want to make it a service that people find useful and affordable. Maybe those who don't subscribe to the service will be shamed into it by their neighbors. Human nature is what it comes down to."

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