Mayor Harrell’s State of Seattle address: ‘A lot to be optimistic about’

Feb 21, 2023, 3:54 PM
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell during his second 'State of the City' Address Feb. 21.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell expressed optimism throughout his second ‘State of the City’ address Tuesday, stating the city has a history of doing great, innovative things — something Seattle needs to channel once more in order to solve its downtown crisis.

“There’s no better example of where this unabashed boldness is needed than our downtown,” Harrell said during his address. “My executive team could cite, chapter and verse, what other cities are trying to do. From the remote work revolution to every evolving retail landscape, the issues facing our downtown are not unique to Seattle.

Convention Center hopes to spark a comeback in downtown Seattle

“But what is unique are the resources that we have,” Harrell continued. “The energy and the focus we have can harness to solve these problems to transform our downtown and, quite candidly, write a new playbook for this country on what a downtown neighborhood should look like.”

Amazon announced last week it has officially announced the end of its full-time work-from-home policy for corporate employees, according to an announcement from CEO Andy Jassy. Employees will soon be required to spend at least three days a week working from the office, something Harrell applauded in his address.

“I’m very pleased that employers like Amazon recently announced and recognized coming back to work downtown is a great thing,” Harrell said.

Jassy shared in Harrell’s optimism, believing this shift will provide a boost for the businesses near its urban headquarter locations in the Puget Sound region.

But last month, Amazon also announced it was moving its offices out of the West 8th Tower.

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Nationally, office buildings in Houston, Austin, and Chicago have surpassed 50% occupancy, according to a report from Kastle Systems. Seattle hopes to join the list after the city’s investments toward downtown.

The Downtown Seattle Association’s (DSA) recovery report showed last month that the return to offices is at 43% of 2019 foot traffic levels. DSA reported that the month represented the second-highest daily worker traffic since the pandemic.

One of the reasons for the stall in office occupancy is the levels of crime throughout the area, something Harrell is keenly aware of.

“As mayor, I embraced the proposition that it must be safe for them to return as employees. It has to be safe,” Harrell said. “So last week, I spent time walking Third Avenue all the way from the Pike Square light rail station up to the Pike and Pine streets. Our plan recognizes the downtown safety concerns are real, there’s no way else to say that. If we don’t create a safe, welcoming downtown for everyone, if we don’t create that, everything will fall flat. It’s as simple as that.”

But, according to Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz, crime numbers have begun to trend downwards toward the end of last year.

“I’ve been really focused on addressing violent crime since I came into the job, so a lot of the work that we did in Quarter 4 last year, we’ve actually started to see a drop in violent crime,” Diaz told MyNorthwest. “Homicides have stayed pretty consistent, and that is our growing concern. This month, just this month alone, we’ve actually seen a 30% drop in violent crime. However, our homicides are still staying steady. This is the work that we are still committed to staying focused on.”

According to SPD data, there’s still a lot of work to be done, as there were still 739 shootings and “shots fired” incidents throughout Seattle in 2022, a 19% increase from 2021.

New crime data shows optimistic outlook for downtown Seattle

Seattle witnessed a 13% drop in crime from January through October last year, according to SPD statistics.

In December, Harrell approved and signed a biennial budget for 2023 and 2024 totaling approximately $7.4 billion, including $1.6 billion in General Fund. The budget will be, in part, to support small business and economic revitalization programs through the Office of Economic Development alongside programs to reinvigorate downtown.

The budget was also highlighted for projects including rebuilding Seattle Police Department’s (SPD) and Fire Department’s (SFD) staff, increasing affordable housing, and funding more mental health services in schools in addition to Harrell’s plans for downtown.

“We must ensure that downtown, once again, is a destination where people want to be,” Harrell said. “The recent opening of the Convention Center, the groundbreaking streetscape improvements we announced last week in the Pike-Pine corridor, the redevelopment of our waterfront connecting it to downtown along with 20 acres of new parkland along the waterfront, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the FIFA World Cup match is coming here. There is a lot to be optimistic about. Understand that.”

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Mayor Harrell’s State of Seattle address: ‘A lot to be optimistic about’