My Northwest: Downtown Seattle’s return has ‘turned a corner’ over the last few months

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This story was originally published by My Northwest on July 12, 2021.

As Washington starts to come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, downtown Seattle is reopening. While there were 450 business closures downtown during the pandemic, a number of new businesses have opened their doors and are ready to welcome visitors.

“We’ve had 450 closures,” said Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association. “But surprisingly in some cases, more than 200 new businesses have opened during this last year and a handful of months that we’ve been in this pandemic. And so over the last three to four months, we’ve really turned a corner in downtown Seattle.”

“We’re seeing more visitors. Hotel occupancy is up over 80% on certain weekends, and during the week over 50%, and 75% of the businesses and attractions that were around prior to the pandemic in downtown Seattle have their doors open today,” Scholes added. “So we’re not out of the woods yet. This is going to be a multi-year, not a multi-month recovery, but we’ve really turned a corner in the last couple of months.”

Amazon and many other large employers, Scholes explained, have stated that they see themselves having an “office-centric culture.” While Scholes recognizes that every employee probably will not return to work in their downtown office five days a week, he does think it will be a majority of the week that folks who were working downtown prior to the pandemic are downtown again.

“Fundamentally, we don’t believe their preferences have changed,” Scholes said. “They want to be able to go out to happy hour with their friends and colleagues. They want to be able to go to a game or a show after work. They want that energy and vibrancy that you don’t get at your kitchen table or behind your laptop working in your own home, or the options you have in your own neighborhood. You want that downtown urban experience.”

“For the last 20 years, jobs have been gravitating towards cities in our country, into downtowns, because that’s where workers, particularly young workers, want to be,” he added. “And we don’t think the pandemic has really changed that much.”

People do want flexibility, he noted, but on a monthly or weekly basis, Scholes expects people to mostly be back in that urban environment more days than not, “back with their colleagues, back with access to art, culture, sports, great food, and entertainment.”

After ‘grueling’ last year, Seattle to celebrate reopening with series of summer events

To help welcome people back downtown, the Downtown Seattle Association has partnered with the city of Seattle and Mayor Jenny Durkan to host a series of “Welcome Back Weeks,” beginning July 12 through July 26. There will then be another series of events in the two weeks following Labor Day in September.

“So concerts, festivals, street fairs, food, welcome back booze promotions,” Scholes said. “… We’ve extended our summer concert series. There’s going to be more concerts this year than ever before.”

“Collectively, between the City and the Downtown Seattle Association and Visit Seattle, we’re investing $15 million in reopening downtown — cleaning, art, beautification, events, promotion,” he said.

In terms of the theaters, nightlife, and showbiz of downtown, Scholes says they’re open and reopening.

“If you look at those schedules, you’ll see this month and next month a series of shows and concerts that are on the books,” he said. “The Triple Door opened a couple weeks ago. The Moore Theatre has got some bookings. And then it really picks up in September and into the fall and it’s a much thicker schedule.”

“The theaters aren’t going to be full of shows in July and August, although there are some,” he added. “And so we’re trying to fill the gaps by bringing music and art and entertainment outside in our parks and other public spaces. Pier 62 down on the waterfront is going to have some great concerts and programming in the coming weeks. So there’s plenty to check out.”

Learn more about the Welcome Back Weeks programming online here, and here.