Using Seattle Rescue Plan Investments, City of Seattle to Invest More Than $9 Million in Downtown Recovery Projects
City of Seattle and Downtown Partners to Host “Welcome Back Weeks” in July and September to Increase Downtown Visitor
Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and downtown Seattle community leaders announced the Road to Downtown Recovery plan, which includes new efforts and investments to bring workers, small businesses, and visitors back downtown. Using Seattle Rescue Plan investments and other federal funds, the City will invest more than $9 million in downtown recovery projects, including efforts to address empty storefronts, direct cash assistance to downtown small businesses, and workforce development programs for un- or under-employed downtown hospitality workers. Private partners – including the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) and Visit Seattle – are committing $7.4 million this year for other efforts including marketing, events, and cleaning. For the purposes of this recovery effort, the City’s definition of downtown spans from Seattle Center to the Stadium District and I-5 to the Waterfront.
Downtown Seattle has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn. According to data from DSA, more than 450 street-level business locations have permanently closed downtown since the pandemic began. In addition, average daily foot traffic downtown has decreased from nearly 450,000 visitors per day in January 2020 to 300,000 visitors per day in June 2021. During initial COVID-19 safety restrictions, average daily visitors downtown dropped as low as 130,000 per day. According to the Puget Sound Regional Council, at pre-pandemic levels, an estimated 48.9 percent of the covered employment in Seattle – workers who are covered by State of Washington insurance programs – was based downtown.
To boost reopening and long-term recovery, Mayor Durkan and the City of Seattle invested resources in vaccination efforts to make Seattle one of the safest cities in the country to visit, live, or work as we emerge from the significant impacts of the pandemic. At the same time, in February 2021, Mayor Durkan convened the Downtown Revitalization Working Group (DRWG) – a coalition of business, labor, arts, and community-based organizations to advise the City on efforts to help downtown Seattle recover. After meeting biweekly since February, the City and DRWG have established four central strategies to bring workers, small businesses, and visitors back downtown with key actions beginning in June and July:
- Increase events and programming
- Reopen small businesses and cultural organizations
- Support a summer and fall return for workers who are currently remote by focusing on return to transit, addressing homelessness, and advancing public safety
- Increase graffiti and trash cleanup and beautification efforts
“Seattle was the first city in the country to feel the effects of COVID-19, and at the time, we had no national leadership or playbook to combat this virus and keep our communities safe. Still, we worked quickly to protect the health and safety of our communities, and to-date, Seattle has the lowest COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths of any major American city, and working together with public and private partners, Seattle was the first major city in the country to vaccinate 70 percent of its eligible residents,” said Mayor Durkan. “Our success was thanks to our Seattle residents who prioritized community-wide health and acted in their neighbors’ interests, alongside their own. Our work together on COVID-19 and vaccinations showed our city can do big things together, and one of our biggest challenges ahead is recovery. Now, I call on Seattleites to bring that same sense of civic and city pride to our recovery efforts. Our downtown small businesses, cultural institutions, and workers need our support – they can’t fully reopen or recover without us. If you’re able, take transit or bike downtown to enjoy our beautiful Seattle summers on the waterfront, get dinner at a downtown restaurant, explore Pioneer Square’s art galleries, or visit our winning Mariners or our first place Sounders. Downtown is Seattle’s economic engine and heartbeat, and it’s up to us to help it come back better than ever for all those who live, work, or visit.”
“As our region transitions from response to recovery, we are focused on bringing back jobs and breaking down barriers so our community is stronger and more inclusive than before. The vitality of the center city – downtown Seattle – is mission critical, and my administration is dedicated to doing all we can to build economic health. Metro currently carries more than 160,000 riders each weekday throughout our system, an increase of 40,000 riders since the beginning of the year. Our Metro crews are out pressure washing and removing litter, weeds, and graffiti along key rider corridors in Seattle, which serve people throughout the county,” said Executive Constantine. “As a longtime advocate for arts, music, and culture, I am thrilled to be able to invest $34.4 million in the coming months to help the creative economy recover. This will help us restore and revive the entire region.”
As part of the City’s effort to increase events and programming downtown, the City and DSA are partnering to host two sets of “Welcome Back Weeks” from July 12 – 25 and September 4 – 19. Welcome Back Weeks will include events that vary from large-scale concerts and retail promotions to different specials that encourage support for small downtown restaurants and bars. Businesses or organizations who would like to offer programming during Welcome Back Weeks should complete this form to submit their activities to the DSA for promotion. The City is also investing in all downtown neighborhood business districts to support further summer programming. Beginning in June, the City will also gradually reopening downtown City facilities including City Hall, the Central Library, and the Seattle Center campus including its resident arts organizations and Climate Pledge Arena in October.
In addition, to ensure a safe, welcoming experience for downtown workers, visitors and residents, the Metropolitan Improvement District, which is managed by DSA, is investing $3.2 million in additional equipment, cleaning, events and activations, including live music and other amenities.
“The pandemic’s economic impact in downtown Seattle was immediate, cut across sectors and so many of our small businesses and institutions have suffered. This series of actions is critical to getting downtown back on its feet,” said Downtown Seattle Association President & CEO Jon Scholes. “We’re taking action together to reopen downtown and welcome everyone back. When we’ve made meaningful progress in this city it’s been through public-private partnerships and we’re taking that same approach to accelerate downtown recovery. Seattle can build on our successful vaccination milestones and be the first city in the country to fully recover its downtown. We have an opportunity to renew and reimagine downtown Seattle so it is more resilient, dynamic and inclusive.”
“The Seattle Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena, at our core, believe we live and operate in the best city in the world. We pride ourselves on being representative of our community that has endured so much and still embraced this arena project and hockey club so deeply. This October, we look forward to celebrating the return of live events with thousands of our guests and fans all experiencing the incredible new developments at Seattle Center, our brand-new arena, and puck drop for Seattle’s newest franchise,” said Seattle Kraken Vice President of Government Relations and Outreach Eric Pettigrew.
As part of the downtown recovery effort, the City will provide direct cash assistance to downtown small businesses and arts and cultural organizations, and will also invest in a program to activate empty storefronts with temporary art installations, work, or pop-up retail spaces. The City is increasing resources to Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to offer more free permits to activate streets and sidewalks in support of downtown businesses, with the goal of doubling the number of permits to 120 by the end of September.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we knew that our artists and cultural organizations would be some of the most impacted. That’s why we launched the COVID-19 Arts Emergency Relief Fund to offer immediate and direct financial support to the local artists who make our city so unique,” said Michael Greer, Executive Director of ArtsFund. “As we begin to reopen, ArtsFund will continue to collect data and monitor the long term effects on our sector. I look forward to continuing to work with the Mayor and our other downtown partners to make sure that our arts and culture community is positioned for a strong recovery, as it’s undeniable that arts and culture play a significant role in strengthening our communities.”
“Amid a pandemic, you may expect the Market to have shut its doors and closed down, it did not. This resilient community has endured with the help of our local Seattle community. Pike Place Market is comprised of hundreds of small businesses that rely on people physically visiting the Market and we are thrilled to be welcoming back many residents and visitors as we launch into a new era of downtown Seattle. We are the Soul of Seattle. The Pike Place Market emanates a special energy that radiates through the downtown corridor. We are happy to be working with Mayor Durkan, the City of Seattle and all our downtown partners in this effort to re-open this remarkable city,” said Mary Bacarella, Executive Director of Pike Place Market.
To facilitate the return of workers and small businesses, by the fall, the City will launch new workforce development and job placement supports for un- or underemployed downtown hospitality workers, and will coordinate with regional partners for a technology summit to develop community-based solutions to furthering racial equity in the technology sector. To further encourage workers to come back downtown and incentivize transit use, SDOT recently launched a program to provide 2,000 free ORCA cards to Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square restaurant and grocery workers. The City will prioritize the health and safety of downtown workers and small businesses by increasing – to the extent possible within the Seattle Police Department’s current staffing constraints – the presence of visible sworn and Community Service Officers in areas with increased crime, alongside ongoing efforts like the expansion of Health One, to best serve highly vulnerable individuals without a sworn officer response.
The City and county are also implementing new resources to address vulnerable people living unhoused with a strong focus in downtown Seattle. The Seattle Rescue Plan will help 750 individuals experiencing homelessness, including helping move 450 individuals into safer spaces and creating 300 new homes. King County’s new investments in homelessness will move an additional 500 individuals downtown and unincorporated King County into safer spaces.
“Uplift Northwest – formerly the Millionair Club Charity – has been serving the downtown corridor for over 100 years and the pandemic did not deter us. Although we were forced to revise and pause some of our services, we continued to provide the employment readiness training and jobs to our most vulnerable citizens,” said Gina Hall, Executive Director of Uplift Northwest. “One hundred percent of those we serve are living in poverty and over 60 percent are experiencing homelessness. It is imperative that housing security, job training and income generation are all addressed as we create innovative pathways to move individuals to a healthier way of life. At Uplift Northwest, our goal is to ensure that our neighbors who were most severely impacted this past year will receive the additional resources, job training and good jobs so that we as a community experience an equitable recovery for all. We look forward to continued work with the City and our partners to advance new workforce development proposals that center our most vulnerable communities.
“As we reopen our economy and return to offices, the thing I hear most from our members is that we need downtown to be welcoming, clean, safe, and refreshed,” said Rachel Smith, President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “Employees and businesses have choices of where to spend time and money, and downtown needs to be a competitive choice, especially as we are starting to venture out from the pandemic. Our city and our leaders must continue to be intentional in driving toward our goal of an inclusive and equitable recovery, and build and activate a coalition of partners from all corners of our city, to achieve it. We must be unstoppable – there is too much at stake.”
As part of the beautification effort, the City will coordinate trash clean-up activities among downtown entities and City departments to ensure that areas with scheduled events are prioritized. These efforts include the continuation of the Clean City program and graffiti abatement, as well as new efforts to refresh planter boxes, and increase murals, art installations, and lighting fixtures. The Washington State Department of Transportation will address the downtown I-5 corridor with trash removal and graffiti abatement.
In the coming days, the City will announce further details on the above strategies, including a full roster of programming for the July Welcome Back Weeks.