Last week, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels spoke on Broadway with some fanfare and enthusiasm about the changes that, with city and community efforts, help bring positive change to the Broadway business district. He announced that $345,000 in city funding and services will be pointed in Broadway's direction. He also accepted the Broadway Action Agenda team's final report, a 31-page document that lists a large number of specific elements aimed at improving Broadway's economic vitality and viability.
This week, it's back to work. The Seattle City Council was expected to approve the mayor's commitment on Monday, July 31, but the session was cancelled. But work continues apace, and council approval is expected.
The city will contribute $125,000 towards establishing a Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, the first item highlighted in the report. (The Hill has been without a chamber since November 2004.) Efforts at creating and defining a chamber are now under way. What's needed is someone to help drum up the membership rolls and, once the chamber has been established, an experienced person to fill the executive director position.
"It will be a challenge to find someone for a new organization," said Chip Ragen, co-chair of the group who put together the plan. "But it's important to find the right person. There is some pressure on us as well, because we want to move ahead and show the community the results of all our effort and the city's contribution."
Ragen said it is probable that someone will be brought on board in the next few weeks. That person may fill an interim position tasked with getting the chamber started. If so, another person could be hired to fill an executive director position once the new business group is up and running.
"The skills needed are very different, although it would be great if we could fine one person who excels at both," said David Schraer, a consultant who is also part of the Action Agenda group.
The city money is expected to jump start creating a Capitol Hill Improvement District, a self-taxing body of Hill property owners. Also, work proceeds on a study on Broadway's retail mix, aimed at getting a better sense of what kinds of new businesses would make a good fit.
The rest of the funding is not a cash contribution from the city. But $220,000 of city services will be directed to Broadway. This money should lead to perceptible physical changes on the street. Where, exactly, those efforts will go has not been determined. But the Action Agenda document specifies that great emphasis be placed on graffiti removal as well as other elements aimed at improving Broadway's appearance. These include cleaning up light poles and newspaper drop boxes as well as utilizing vacant store fronts in a positive way. A clean-up event on Sept. 23 will kick off the work. In the weeks prior to the event specific priorities will be established
Ragen said he doesn't think the enthusiasm at the mayor's acceptance of the Action Agenda is misplaced. While good words have been said on Broadway's behalf many times in the past, the current effort is different:
"There is a great deal of focused commitment to making things better on Broadway. The city has stepped up in ways it hasn't before. The city has committed resources and a great deal of staff support to get this going. There is so much development in the works now, which will also give Broadway a shot in the arm. But it is a challenge to get the right mix of retailers up here, a challenge to create the atmosphere that is conducive to a thriving business district. New development will make a substantial difference."
Broadway Video owner Paul Dwoskin is also optimistic about the prospects of positive change on Broadway and on Capitol Hill. As a board member and past president of the Broadway Business Improvement Association, the longtime small business owner pointed to the many large developments in process along Broadway that, in combination with the Action Agenda undertaking, points toward an improved business district. More residents - the projects slated for the old QFC and Safeway sites at the north end of Broadway will bring several hundred apartments and condominiums to the street - should also help attract stronger and more diverse retail. Broadway, he pointed out, hasn't had a new major construction project since the Broadway Market was built in 1984.
"This is a doable, sustainable plan. There's a great mix of people from all kinds of groups - retailers, developers, institutions like Seattle Central Community College - and the plan addresses key issues," said Dwoskin, who was part of the group that created the document.
Dwoskin said that many of the items in the plan are basic, necessary and previously neglected.
"Much of this includes little things, like removing newspaper drop boxes, or keeping dumpsters off the street, that should have always been done but wasn't," he said.
Schraer said that one of the plan's strengths, and one of the differences between this effort and other mostly rhetorical ones that preceded it, is that there isn't as much to fix on Broadway as there was in some other business districts.
"We don't need as much on the Hill. There's more wealth than some neighborhoods, greater density, a diverse demographic and we're close to the center of the city," he said.
While physical change may be gradual and not involve the major street overhaul that took place on University Avenue, the improvements are expected to be positive and tangible.
"I think Broadway is on the brink of a lot of good things," Dwoskin said. "Things aren't bad now, but they are going to get better."
Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 461-1308.