It's a question that gets asked, with good reason, on a regular basis: What to do about Broadway? With issues ranging from decreased public safety to a shifting and diminishing retail base to residents who choose to shop elsewhere, Broadway's economic health and future prospects are frequently subjects of great concern.
The question was officially posed once again during last week's meeting to discuss Broadway revitalization. Brought about by the Office of Economic Development, the Thursday, Aug. 14, gathering at Seattle Central Community College was an opportunity for the community to listen to the consultants who are conducting a city-sponsored market analysis and feasibility study to explore issues pertaining to Broadway business well-being and to issue recommendations. That roughly 50 people attended the session despite the picture perfect summer evening spoke eloquently to the importance many attach to the issue of Broadway's economic health and vitality.
As explained by the OED's Jennifer Davis Hayes, who works for the city on Broadway neighborhood improvement issues, revitalization means increasing the residential base within the business district, enhancing that base and improving the district's livability and public safety. The study, she said, will help the city make positive dechoosing them from a list of 11 applicants; the company recently performed similar work in the University District. Partner Matthew Gardner outlined the steps the consultants will take:
"We will first assess the area and consider, 'Where are we now?'" he said. "We get our feet on the ground. What I've found interesting so far is that Broadway is a heck of a lot more vibrant than the U-District."
The next step will be to determine Broadway's financial feasibility. The consultants will ask if the existing business environment makes sense. This includes examining zoning issues and the city's land use code to see what changes might be made and to find out how the community feels about such possible changes.
"The more bodies you get on the street, the more vital it is. Our job is to ask how can we make it all make sense," he said.
The third step is to complete the report, present that report to the community. Following community comment, a final draft will be sent to the city to assist in the city's neighborhood business district economic development process.
Gardner said the study's first draft should be complete by the end of September.
As for the market assessment, Gardner Johnson will look at up to six business sites on Broadway and examine their suitability for redevelopment and how that development might take place. To be considered will be what changes might improve that property's prospects for economic success.
"Then we ask, what does the community want," said Gardner.
The importance of retail, and Broadway's declining retail climate, was referenced often; similar emphasis was placed on asking why so many people who live near Broadway choose to shop elsewhere.
"Retail follows people, not the other way 'round," Gardner said. "If we can bring more bodies to Broadway, then there will be more interest from retailers, and they will be a different kind of retailer."
Not surprisingly, given the range of emotions the idea of Broadway redevelopment generates, there were a large number of audience questions.
"Is it a forgone decision that the solutions you are going to explore will involve the physical redevelopment of Broadway?" asked one resident.
"Absolutely," said Gardner. "We'll be looking down all different avenues. Analysis is objective. What comes out of the process comes out. We'll be looking at a number of things, and redevelopment is certainly one of them."
"One huge gray area on Broadway is the uncertainty over Sound Transit," said Charles Hamilton, president of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.
"Without a doubt, it's very substantial. It does have an effect. But until we're told what will happen it's very difficult to take that into account. We will acknowledge that Sound Transit on Broadway is a possibility," Gardner said.
"How do we get desirable businesses on Broadway?" asked Chuck Weinstock, director of the Capitol Hill Housing Improvement Program.
The answer, suggested Jerry Johnson, Gardner Johnson's other partner, in part is to have Broadway act and think in a more cohesive manner as a business district. While not wanting Broadway to resemble a shopping mall, a mall's cohesion and unity may offer a useful model in some respects.
The study, he said, will address this issue: "The idea is to learn the parameters of what is and isn't working on Broadway."
"We're also hoping that the Broadway Business Improvement Association, as it gets back on its feet, will add unity to the business climate," said the OED's Hayes. The goal, she said, is to find ways to make Broadway into a vibrant business district.
After the event
Speaking after the meeting, Hayes said that the study does not represent the OED's only efforts at Broadway revitalization.
And she said that the notion, held by some, that the final draft will be ignored by the city is incorrect. By way of example, she points to the University District, where many recommendations of Gardner Johnson's report are being put into practice.
"The city is making a huge investment in the study, so we want to gain some positive outcomes as a result," she said. "This will help us develop a strategy. The community will be seeing changes."
Randy Wiger, chair of the Capitol Hill Stewardship Council, which oversees the implementation of the Capitol Hill Neighborhood Plan, was optimistic about the study.
"It's going to look at a lot of different things, look at businesses and retail mix, the demographics. It will be helpful to know where Broadway is losing money and where nearby residents go shopping," he said. "With so many people living within five blocks of Broadway, why aren't these people spending their money closer to home?"
He thought the study could be helpful in determining how Broadway is perceived.
"If everyone thinks Broadway is only for 20-something club goers they may be wrong. But if everyone thinks so it might as well be true," he said. "I feel positive, basically, about these efforts. It seemed the consultants are knowledgeable, and I think they will be neutral politically. I will be very interested to see the results."
Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at 461-1308 or editor@capitol hilltimes.com.
cisions about Broadway's future.
Costing roughly $30,000 and funded through the OED and Department of Neighborhoods' matching grants, Hayes said the study is part of Mayor Greg Nickels' efforts to revitalize five neighborhood business districts, of which Broadway is one.
"We recognized the need for an understanding issues and impediments and challenges to development of Broadway itself," she said. "This study is not merely numbers crunching. We're looking at the plan from the community's perspective."
The city hired the consulting firm Gardner Johnson to conduct the study,