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As FIFA eyes Seattle, convention expresses fears over state of downtown

"Tent Mansion" near Seattle Center. (KIRO 7)

Seattle is a hotspot for national conferences, but the city’s major issues could change this. KIRO 7’s Gary Horcher broke the story that the American Pharmacists Association is eyeing its 2019 conference in Seattle with trepidation due to the city’s homelessness crisis.

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The APhA is planning to hold its annual conference in Seattle next March, the third time that Seattle will play host to the event. This year’s conference in Nashville drew 6,300 people.

“This is usually a very large economic impact to our city,” Horcher told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

According to Horcher, the APhA wrote a letter to Visit Seattle expressing fear over the upcoming conference based on incidents that had occurred in late April, when a group of 13 APhA representatives came to town to begin planning the event.

According to the letter, the delegation witnessed homeless individuals urinating and defecating in public, shouting profanities, and taking drugs on sidewalks. The letter further described that the visitors had been harassed and followed by transients asking for money, and had felt unsafe walking around the downtown streets.

“They’re trying to alert the city … that [Visit Seattle] need[s] to inform city leadership that things need to change,” Horcher said.

The APhA asked for changes to be made to make city streets safer before March’s conference. Otherwise, the letter stated, future conferences may not return to the Emerald City.

In response, Visit Seattle sent a letter to the City of Seattle in which “they’re calling on the mayor for leadership,” Horcher said.

“That kind of visit is the lifeblood of our town,” he said, explaining that it will bring in about $8.5 million.

He pointed out that all of the major cities across the country are competing to host conferences, and that Seattle will start losing more of these opportunities if it does not turn its situation around.

“[Organizations] are going to be courted by somebody else who is either going to give them a better deal or is going to guarantee security and safety for all those people coming to town,” he said.

World Cup concerns

This news comes in the same week that the city announced it is vying against 16 other American cities to be one of 10 cities that will host soccer matches in the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Horcher said, however, if Seattle makes the same impression on FIFA that it did on the APhA, the Puget Sound should not expect any World Cup hosting invitations anytime soon.

“This is one of the small signs of big problems, and they will not be able to impress FIFA,” he said.

One glaring example of the city’s homelessness issues is the “tent mansion” — unmissable for any tourist, as it is set up across the street from the city’s most-visited sight, the Space Needle. Horcher said that the spectacle began a few months ago as one tent, but has since grown to about nine — and despite city ordinances that ban camping on public streets, the city has made no move to get rid of it.

The way in which the city deals with the “tent mansion,” Horcher said, will be a good way to judge how it will try to fix the rest of its problems in the coming months and years.

“It’s sort of a test of how serious the city is going to be about trying to get people into services,” he said.

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