Still talking Broadway

It was yet another beautiful, sunny evening, the sort that compels people to be outside without asking. Yet inside Gilda's Club, more than 30 people chose instead to attend and discuss the now common and often-stated issue of Broadway revitalization.

Dubbed a Capitol Hill Summit, the gathering was a follow-up meeting to go over ideas and observations generated since the first such summit on July 10. At that time, various committees were formed and volunteers were asked to address specific issues and to focus on possible solutions.

The issues range from public safety concerns to why the Broadway business corridor isn't flourishing. The goal, stated in July and reaffirmed last week, is to revitalize Broadway and return it to the retail destination many remember it being 10 and 20 years ago.

"As a resident, it's sad what has happened up here," said Greg Serum, who owns an accounting business on Broadway and who moderated the discussion. "As a veteran of many meetings, I feel there is a fresh attitude. There are new people here, new ideas and a lot of energy behind them."

Subcommittees were formed in July, and last week's forum was a time for them to report back.

First up was the parking. And the chief issue to parking, according to Lonnie Lusardo, has to do with perception. The perception of the parking problem is larger than the reality.

"There's plenty of parking up here," he said. "There's just not much free parking."

Other parking issues involved different parking needs during the day and evening, employee parking concerns and better marking for existing spaces.

As solutions, his group proposed a parking validation program, which has been suggested before but failed to get off the ground. A circuit bus from the convention center, better use of shared parking, parking pay stations instead of meters and better promotional and marketing efforts were also suggested as ways parking improvements could be made.

Panhandling was the next issue on the table.

"It's a major concern," said Randy Nelson, a case manager for Street Outreach Services who works with homeless youth on and near Broadway. "The problem, of course, is that people just don't like being hounded for money."

While the problem, and its effects on Broadway's business health, are likely self evident, solutions are far from easy. Making the street more attractive for pedestrians, cleaning up the trash generated by many of the homeless youth who congregate on Broadway, especially around the post office and, importantly, obtaining a larger police presence were recommended steps to improve the situation.

Nelson also proposed doing research of other communities to learn how they have resolved panhandling issues.

Well connected to the idea of panhandling is the topic of police presence. Jonathon Bowman spoke of the number of police officers who have been pulled from the Broadway beat to respond to 911 calls. The room agreed that a greater police presence on Broadway would help tremendously.

"The philosophy behind bike patrols was getting to know the neighborhood," added Jose Cervantes, who runs the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Service Center in the new Capitol Hill branch library. "The idea is that the officers were part of the community and people knew them."

"We need to rebuild a relationship with the police," said Michael Wells, owner of Bailey/Coy books. "Years ago I did know them. They came in the store just to talk."

How to obtain more beat offices, though, is not so easily achieved. One possible solution was to look for funding beyond Seattle.

"All the effort on the local level has yet to do too much," said Bowman. "We need to go after federal money."

Note was repeatedly made between how connected the various topics were. Panhandling and police presence go hand in hand. Public safety, a thriving retail district and the kinds of businesses Broadway attracts are likewise interconnected.

Randy Wiger, speaking of the retail mix, pointed out that the largest business enterprise on Capitol Hill is apartment rentals. The next most common businesses are restaurants, followed by clothing stores, though Broadway is a difficult place to buy new socks and jeans. He said it was a conservative estimate that 15,000 people live within five blocks of Broadway.

"That's a huge number - there's no reason businesses can't be successful," he said. "No other corridor in the region has this kind of demographic. So why hasn't it worked?"

Suggestions to improve the retail mix included talking to property brokers to learn why certain kinds of businesses are not choosing Broadway, forming an organization to actively recruit desirable businesses to the street, (again) increasing public safety and perhaps establishing a funded position to advocate for Broadway, perhaps using the Phinney Neighborhood Center as a model.

Other issues discussed included creating more unifying festivals, especially in light of the demise of Cirque du Broadway, which would have taken place this month. A bigger Pride event was proposed, along with possibly creating a farmer's market during the summer. Uncertainty over Sound Transit's future on Broadway was also put forward as a barrier to the business district's success.

Frank Percival, president of the Greater Seattle Business Association, one of the groups sponsoring both Broadway summits, issued a challenge. While encouraged by the energy behind the discussion, Percival wanted the groups to come up with tangible steps for the next meeting, which should take place in the fall:

"By the end of the next meeting I'd like to see you identify one solution, come up with a plan, a budget if needed and a timeline, and description of how you're going to make it happen."

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at

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