Real Change move rattles Pioneer Square group

May 20, 2010, 2:58 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

Seattle’s street newspaper is relocating to Pioneer Square despite opposition from a group that normally encourages businesses to move to the area.

You see them in front of grocery stores and on street corners.

RealChangeLogojpg“Real Change here,” says a newspaper vendor. “Have a nice day.”

The homeless and working poor pay 35 cents for each copy of the Real Change newspaper, and then sell it on the street for a $1 donation.

When Tim Harris started the paper 16 years ago in Seattle, he was the only guy putting together the bi-monthly publication. Now it’s a weekly paper with a staff of 16 and more than 400 street vendors.

“We’re a big operation with an $800,000 budget,” Harris says. “Our circulation has been increasing over the last three years with an average increase of 18 percent a year. We’re bucking trend in the newspaper industry.”

With that success comes a need for a larger office space, so they decided to move from Belltown to Pioneer Square. Normally that would be no big deal, but to some people it is upsetting.

“The Pioneer Square Community Association ticked us off by sending a letter to the Mayor saying that the neighborhood was already saturated with social services and that one more moving in would be the tipping point that would destroy the neighborhood,” says Harris.

He says that’s a little ridiculous considering “the vendors that they’re afraid of attracting to the neighborhood are already there.”

Mayor McGinn’s office responded to the PSCA with a letter, dated March 31, that points out Real Change is a local nonprofit that does not receive any money from the city. Therefore, it’s not the city’s place to tell Real Change where they can lease space. On April 21, the City Department of Neighborhoods issued a certificate approving changes for the building Real Change will move to at 219 1st Avenue.

The PSCA appealed to the city Hearing Examiner to stop the relocation. In their appeal they said it’s not their intention to prevent Real Change from moving to Pioneer Square. “There are a number of locations in the Square that would be appropriate for the applicant,” they say, and it’s their responsibility to “protect the integrity of the Preservation District’s statutory requirements.”

Leslie Smith, executive director of the PSCA says she “does not wish to comment at this time” since the case is under appeal. The appeal document claims Real Change has not correctly described their intended use for the space, and it’s misleading to call it office space.

Harris isn’t waiting for the appeal, which was filed May 13, to be settled. They’re moving this weekend.

He thinks Pioneer Square will benefit from having his vendors come to the area to pick up their papers.

“They’re working poor people. They spend their money generally as fast as they make it,” he says. “Quizno’s around the corner from us is gonna see a 100 percent increase in their business.”

Real Change, which has won national awards for its journalism, plans to open Monday and hold a support rally at 5 p.m. that day in Occidental Park.

Mike Hall

Mike Hall, the iconic Elliott Bay Real Change vendor who has a job winding the Pioneer Square clock twice daily.

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Real Change move rattles Pioneer Square group