PSBJ: Analysis: Downtown Seattle didn’t just happen. It took a lot of work

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This article was originally published by the Puget Sound Business Journal on February 8, 2016

I’m a hard-core urbanist. I love the energy of the city.

That’s one reason why I’m fascinated with the resurgence of downtown Seattle. Our cover story last week, “The city that almost never sleeps,” explored the economic momentum of the downtown core while laying out the challenges for future growth.

As a kid growing up in Portland, I often hopped the bus, by myself, just to walk the streets of the Rose City. The diversity and sense of urgency excited me. I was transfixed.

Now, as Seattle prepares to take its place as a true global city, its downtown is the city’s fastest-growing residential neighborhood. Almost 70,000 people live in one of greater downtown’s 12 neighborhoods. That’s one in 10 Seattle residents.

That density has created a need for services, including restaurants, bars, shops and other amenities that open early in the morning and remain open long after the business day ends. There are 46 active construction projects happening right now.

Downtown’s development and renovation isn’t by accident. Leadership from Mayor Ed Murray to Seattle Chamber CEO Maud Daudon to Downtown Seattle Association President Jon Scholes to Visit Seattle CEO Tom Norwalk helped make this happen.

They saw potential where others saw trouble. From DSA’s retail recruitment effort to Visit Seattle’s advocacy for cleaner streetscapes and better signage, these leaders never gave up.

Strong downtowns connect communities and neighborhoods. They serve as gathering places for people of all income levels. They create more opportunities for private-sector development.

Case in point: Antioch University — which is opening in Belltown next year — will send hundreds of college students into the city on a daily basis. They’ll spend money and bring diversity and energy to the city’s core.

Remember, just 15 months ago riots and protests marred the start of the holiday shopping season. Radio talk show hosts urged listeners to avoid the downtown core. One even said he hadn’t visited downtown Seattle in years and hoped to never have reason to visit again.

Homelessness and panhandling remain serious problems, but nobody I talked with while doing research for the cover story was concerned for their safety. This must be a focus moving forward.

Downtown Seattle’s momentum will continue. By focusing on simple actions that make an immediate difference, downtown leaders have paved the way for a bright future.