Big ideas for the city from the head of the Downtown Seattle Association

Mar 16, 2023, 5:34 PM
downtown Seattle...
Stakeholders for downtown Seattle are looking for ways to bring the city back. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Jon Scholes, President and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), has some ideas, both big and small, on how to bring downtown back to its former glory.

In an editorial in the Seattle Times, Scholes offered up four recommendations to help the development of a new downtown:

  • Make the streets of downtown safe and welcoming
  • Return more workers to the office
  • Do no harm
  • Make it easier to locate new businesses and investments downtown

DSA is a business organization with 650 members. One of its goals is to create and maintain a vibrant downtown.

On KIRO Newsradio’s Gee & Ursula Show, Scholes addressed all four recommendations.

Make the streets of downtown safe and welcoming

“We’re moving in the right direction, but still have more work to do. I’m not declaring victory. I don’t think we should. But I think under the leadership of Mayor Bruce Harrell, we’re clearly in a better place than we were a year ago,” Scholes said. “And I think I have a lot to look forward to over the next couple of months as well.”

Scholes said that Seattle has seen a 50% reduction in crime in the first two months of 2023 compared to a year ago. He noted that downtown had 140 homeless encampments last year compared to 10 or 12 now.

Man arrested after pointing a handgun at a woman in downtown Seattle

“This is a different downtown than a year ago, even six months ago, and we need to continue to stay the course so that everybody can come here and feel safe and welcomed and that it’s a healthy and clean environment,” Scholes said.

Return more workers to the office

“Workers have been part of that over many, many decades. We did not build a virtual economy in the city. We built an economy that’s really a physical one,” Scholes said. “So those workers are customers for small businesses, they’re customers for the flower shops and salons.

“It drives a lot of tax revenue that has been important to all of these city services that we all enjoy our park system, universal preschool in our city, the list goes on, “Scholes continued. “So there’s a really strong connection to folks working in a central city to the health of our entire city.”

Gee Scott noted that people could save as much as $2,000 a month by NOT working downtown. There are commuting, parking, and time investments that work against Scholes’s goal.

“We need more childcare investment in our city and in the downtown. And thankfully, we have lots and lots of preschools and other childcare opportunities. But we need more, we need housing more closely connected to our downtown. So there are lots of things we need to do to make it easier, more convenient, and more affordable to access downtown. And we’ve made a lot of investments in those areas over the last several years.”

Do no harm

Scholes said that Seattle must make it easier to come back to the city for businesses.

“We need to make it easy for small businesses to reopen and new ones to relocate. We need to make it easier for workers to access downtown to have a great transit system that’s clean and safe and healthy, and reliable.

“We need to take advantage of underutilized buildings, underutilized blocks that the public owns. These are our assets as taxpayers, and how can we get more use out of them, which is going to be a good deal for downtown to bring more housing in potentially more childcare, retail restaurants creating opportunities for small businesses to locate and if we do that, right, and we’re successful, that’s more tax revenue that’s generated for our city and county as well.”

Make it easier to locate new businesses and investments downtown

“Many cities are aggressively putting into place incentives, tax breaks, and investments to spur renewal. This is the right approach to catalyze economic opportunity and restore the downtown tax base, which is critical for a healthy and financially stable city government,” Scholes said in his editorial.

“The health of our whole city’s tax base is really tied to a healthy downtown,” Scholes told KIRO Newsradio. “Half the value of commercial property in our cities located downtown is responsible for about 50% of all the business taxes paid by the city government. So we all have a stake here in our city for a healthy downtown and a healthy tax base.”

In his editorial, Scholes said that the government and other stakeholders need to not only have more ideas but how to realistically execute them.

“It’s time for bold, specific, and measurable actions to further the revitalization of the heart of the city,” Scholes wrote in his editorial. “When successful, this achievement will provide broad benefit for all of Seattle and the region.”

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

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Big ideas for the city from the head of the Downtown Seattle Association