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Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

May 24 2009

Seattle Center/Uptown Businesses: What Now?

Published by at 9:28 pm under Economic Development,Small Businesses

My voting record and policy preferences would strongly suggest that I am a proponent of economic development and an advocate of small business. As you may know, I am working on the development of a purchasing co-op with the goal of bringing small businesses together as a coalition to gain purchasing power. A recent article by Seattle Times’ columnist Steve Kelley and a letter from a Seattle Center merchant described an issue that I have been asking about during the development of the Seattle Center master plan. I believe many businesses in the Seattle Center/Uptown area are hurting and one major factor could be the loss of the Sonics.

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According to the Kelley article, a Seattle Center restaurant owner was given an oral guarantee that the Sonics would call Key Arena home at least until the end of the 2010 season. As a result of the departure of the Sonics, her business is down 55 percent. The owner goes on to say that it feels like a ghost town. One of my staff members walks through the Center House every day on his way home from work. He has wondered how any of the restaurants can continue to stay in business. At 6:00 p.m. on a weekday, there is virtually nobody there, with exception to a concert or a Storm game. With the loss of the Sonics, these businesses lost at least 41 great nights of high volume business (and more if they made the playoffs). Some owners claim that one night of the Sonics could make up for four slow days of business. Kelley goes on to narrate that just outside of Seattle Center in Uptown at least three restaurants have closed in the last eight months and how most of the businesses in that neighborhood are small mom-and-pop operations.

What can be done to help the businesses of Seattle Center/Uptown? One possibility could be to promote Uptown as a Theater/Performing Arts District. This is logical because it is home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Seattle Opera, Teatro Zinzanni, The Seattle Repertory Theater, The Intiman Theater, The Seattle Children’s Theater, The Children’s Museum and On The Boards Theater. With all of the events put on by these organizations, people are certainly still coming to the neighborhood. The neighborhood needs to be promoted as a place to have an enjoyable and fun dining experience before and after arts events. Perhaps, we can start with a banner campaign that promotes the neighborhood and develop other schemes along the way. There are many great restaurants and bars in Seattle Center/Uptown and it appears as though they need assistance. Without it, we may see the decline of a thriving neighborhood and that would be a shame because it surrounds one of our top tourist attractions in the Space Needle and Seattle Center—we should be putting our best foot forward in this neighborhood. As we think about what we are trying to preserve and support in our city, we need to find solutions that help small businesses and promote what it is, essentially, a Performing Arts District. I am currently examining the traffic and safety issues of this concept and we will talk more about this idea in the future.

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