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Business owner: Crime, homelessness in downtown Seattle has ‘never been this bad’

Homeless tent in Seattle. (J. Warne)

After KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show shared their own stories this week about visiting downtown Seattle, particularly in regards to the homelessness crisis, they heard from a local business owner who said “it’s never been so bad.”

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Marc McCann owns Butler Parking, which runs garages that offer valet and self-parking, and has been in business since 1987.

“When I started in ’87, about the biggest issues we had were there were pay centers where people would come pick up their paychecks and some of my garages were right next door to them and the lines would be pretty long and people would sometimes be a little bit disrespectful,” he said. “There were a lot of, I don’t know, people trying to grab the checks or grab money from whoever cashes their checks. … Everybody always moved. Everyone was always pretty respectful, and honestly it didn’t really affect our business.”

Now, McCann says the biggest issue now has been the tents. He says the alley behind his business used to be full of tents, lining both sides.

“I’ve seen fires, … that I’ve sent pictures to the city council actually, just saying, ‘hey, this is what’s happening,'” he said.

McCann says he’s had to call the fire department to come put out the fires as well.

“We’ve had stuff stolen from our lots. Even not too long ago, a couple of our metal garbage cans, somebody used bolt cutters — where they got those, I have no clue — but to cut the garbage cans,” he said. “And then I walked up and down the alley and I found them inside one of the tent villages there and they were using it, one, for trash, I guess that’s all right. And the other one they were using as a fire pit.”

“And so I grabbed a parking enforcement officer and asked her if she could help me empty out the trash cans and reclaim them. And she did,” McCann added.

He says the people who took the cans didn’t say anything when he took it back, but they no longer leave the garbage cans out at their business.

“The graffiti is at least once or twice a week, not just there, but in Pioneer Square, too,” McCann said. “I have a garage right over between Washington and Yesler, on 3rd Avenue, right by the courthouse, which, there’s a million tents. … Just nobody cares. They’re just not doing anything about it. They’ve had
plenty of time to try to fix it. And the city council seems to be just spinning their wheels or maybe playing to their constituents and people that yell the loudest.”

Before COVID-19 hit, McCann says his business was pretty strong.

“But when we did lose customers, it was almost always somebody saying, ‘hey, you know, I can’t do this walk anymore.’ There used to be, right by us in Pioneer Square, there used to be a sort of a tent village, … right on Washington between 2nd and 3rd Avenue.”

McCann happened to catch a reporter live there one day and spoke about how the city wasn’t doing anything about the tents. He says it was impacting his business because people had to walk past to get to their office. About a week or two later, he says the city cleared out the tents in that area.

“They found $60,000 in cash, a bunch of drugs. So, you know, I wasn’t making it up,” he said. “And for a little while, business improved. Business picked up. We weren’t losing people as often.”

“It’s been a real struggle, especially in front of the courthouse right now because so many of our customers are jurors, judges, and lawyers,” McCann said. “They’ve closed the 3rd Avenue entrance right now, which I don’t disagree with because I get it. But I don’t understand why they can’t clean up that park right now. And by the way, it was empty coming into spring, summer. So everybody had a place to live before that, and then all of a sudden they’ve decided to now just put up all their tents there.”

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McCann says he’s tried contacting city councilmembers, but has only ever received one response.

“They just don’t listen,” he said. “… I don’t really have to tell them anything, right? All they have to do is walk out their door and see the problem and figure out a way to fix it.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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