Broadway's future economic health received a notable boost earlier this week when the city committed significant money to improving Broadway's fortunes.
The TV news crews, graffiti removal teams from Cleanscapes and the large crowd that gathered at Bailey-Coy Books on the morning of Monday, July 24, were there for Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels' formal announcement that more than $300,000 in city funding would be committed to help improve the economic climate on Broadway. The announcement makes good on the city's promise last summer to contribute money to Broadway following the approval of the Broadway rezone. That rezone increased the allowable building height on Broadway from 40 to 65 feet.
The mayor's visit also officially acknowledged his acceptance of the Broadway Economic Vitality Action Agenda. That document, several months in the making, was created by a group of business and community members tasked with coming up with strategies and achievable goals meant to stem the tide of Broadway's actual and perceived economic decline.
"In the past several months diligent business owners discussed strategies to maximize the economic vitality of the Hill," said Bailey-Coy owner and group co-chair Michael Wells in his opening remarks. "Our goal is to make a real, sustainable difference on Broadway. We think we've come up with a solid plan."
Wells added that he was pleased so much attention had been focused on Broadway, especially after many in the community felt the business district's issues were largely ignored by City Hall. He was confident current efforts will achieve a positive benefit because of the participation from such a wide group of people as well as a stronger relationship with the city.
"Everyone's committed to moving this plan forward. It will take a collaborative effort between the businesses and the city," Wells said. "
Co-chair Chip Ragen next described the document the group gave to the mayor. The Action Agenda identifies five major goals: establishing a Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, upgrading and maintaining Broadway's appearance, promoting Broadway as a unique business district, enhancing the business district's safety and security and plan for major infrastructure improvements.
The document specifies areas of responsibility for the community as well as for the city. Both need to do their part, Ragen said, if this effort is to prove successful.
The mayor specifically committed $345,000 to the Broadway revitalization effort. Of that total, $220,000 in city resources was slated for a wide variety of physical improvements. The money will be directed toward graffiti and poster removal on city property such as signs and parking meters; replacing street signs on Broadway; painting crosswalks, curbs and fire hydrants; replacing decrepit trash cans; complete the transition from parking meters to pay stations; improving the visual appearance of vacant storefronts; and improving tree maintenance.
The remaining $125,000 is earmarked to help recreate a Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. Capitol Hill has been without a chamber since November 2004; one element of the upcoming chamber is that it be professionally staffed - the former chamber was entirely volunteer driven, an aspect that helped lead to its demise. Efforts at improving Broadway's retail mix and creating the Capitol Hill Improvement District will also benefit from this funding.
"In the last few years Broadway has faced real challenges," said Nickels. "Competition from downtown, Sound Transit delays. We have to figure out how to get Broadway back on track."
Referring to the action plan document, Nickels said that now there was a plan "we can endorse and immediately start putting it into place."
The mayor referenced the zoning change and pointed to $55 million in private investment coming from five new projects alone, notably the large mixed-use developments slated for the former Safeway and QFC sites on the north end of Brodway.
"Great things are coming, and some are things we've been talking about for many years. We're going to commit as a civic partner to this place," he said.
Nickels also said that he would direct more resources to Broadway during the 2007-2008 budget cycle. The statement was an indirect reference to a possible concern that the full amount promised to Broadway last summer - $500,000 - was not released at this time. He acknowledged that strong community efforts, such as those in evidence in the last year, helps increase both the likelihood and amount of future funding.
Nickels was asked if all the new construction will turn Broadway into a generic and bland retail district, one where unique, individual small businesses cannot survive. He said that when previous neighborhoods have been revived they have not lost their sense of identity. He sited Columbia City as a recent example.
"Broadway has its own identity, and the city honors that," he said.
Asked why he feels the current effort is different than previous occasions, Nickels acknowledged that some might be cynical about all the nice words and good intentions. But he maintained the city's commitment, along with the community's commitment, signaled a turning point that would produce tangible results.
"What's different this time is a common vision," said the mayor, referencing the Action Agenda document. "There is now a unified sense of where the community wants to go, and frankly that wasn't always there before. So people will see a difference this time. You will see positive change on Broadway."
A "Broadway Makeover" event is scheduled for Sept. 23, during which business and community volunteers will take part in a day of cleaning and graffiti removal. More information about the event will be released in the next few weeks.
To view the Broadway Economic Vitality Action Agenda, go to www.seattle.gov/economicdevelop ment.
Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 461-1308.