Major Investments

Betting big on the future: major investments set to transform downtown Seattle

  • In 2023, downtown Seattle witnessed a remarkable surge in private and public investment, signaling a vote of confidence in downtown’s revitalization from residents, businesses and investors.
  • Downtown property owners backed the renewal of the Metropolitan Improvement District for another 10-year term, while downtown hotels supported an increase in the Seattle Tourism Improvement Area to boost tourism development for a 15-year term.
  • Residents and property owners are investing in Seattle’s central waterfront through the Waterfront Local Improvement District, while a variety of donors are supporting the transformation of Seattle’s waterfront through Friends of Waterfront Seattle. The Ocean Pavilion, the Seattle Aquarium expansion set to open in summer 2024, is a public-private effort funded by both the city of Seattle and private donors.
  • In August 2023, private philanthropists announced a $45 million donation to connect, restore and revitalize public parks along the Elliott Bay waterfront from Pier 62 to the beach just south of Smith Cove.
  • In December 2023, the King County Council passed a countywide sales tax increase to support the arts sector through the Doors Open levy. This money will provide much-needed funding for downtown’s renowned arts and cultural institutions.
  • Whether it’s the support for clean and safe downtown streets, the transformation of our historic waterfront or the future of our arts and cultural sector, this influx of private and public funds represents a major investment in downtown’s future and the region’s long-term economic health.

Key Takeaways

  • In 2023, downtown property owners, in partnership with philanthropists, combined to make commitments totaling more than $415 million over the coming year to invest in downtown.
  • The Seattle City Council approved the renewal and expansion of both the Seattle Tourism Improvement Area (STIA) and the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID) in 2023, contributing millions of dollars to promoting Seattle tourism and making downtown a clean, safe and welcoming place.
  • Seattle had the highest number of cranes among U.S. cities examined in 2023.
  • There are currently more than 6,400 units under construction in the center city, placing downtown Seattle second among peer downtowns reviewed, with an additional 15,000 units being proposed or in final planning stages.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2021-2022, Seattle was the fourth-fastest-growing large city in the U.S., adding an estimated 17,749 new residents. Seattle is the only city in the top 10 not located in the south or southwestern U.S.
Major Investment Areas Downtown

Transformative projects map

Metropolitan Improvement District


$180-220Mestimated total investment over 10 years


Downtown property owners, who have paid a special assessment for supplemental municipal services since 1999, agreed to renew those services in 2023 for 10 more years. Additionally, they supported a rate increase that will generate around $18 million annually to fund cleaning, community safety and public-realm services throughout the 300-block district.

Seattle Tourism Improvement Area


$150Mestimated total investment over 15 years


The Seattle Tourism Improvement Area (STIA) is a fee on overnight hotel stays established in 2011 to fund leisure tourism marketing. In 2023, with the support of 71 downtown hotels, that fee was increased from $4 per night to 2.3% of the occupied room rate effective Jan. 1, 2024. This will generate about $10 million annually over a 15-year term to continue supporting tourism and attracting conventions.

Credit: Walker Macy

Elliott Bay Connections


$45Mestimated construction cost


Elliott Bay Connections (EBC) is a new public–private partnership to connect, restore and revitalize public parks along the Elliott Bay waterfront from Pier 62 (the northern end of Waterfront Park) to the beach just south of Smith Cove. The project, expected to be complete by June 2026, is funded entirely by private philanthropic donations.

Credit: James Corner Field Operations

Waterfront Local Improvement District and Private Donations


$739Mestimated total investment over 20 years


The Waterfront LID improvements are an investment by downtown property owners in Seattle’s transformative central waterfront project. The waterfront is anticipated to be completed in 2025.

TASWIRA’s Seattle Art Fair Cultural Partner celebration. Photo credit: Beniam Yetbarek

Doors Open Levy


$781Mestimated total investment over 7 years


Downtown Seattle is a major regional employment center for the arts. It is home to two-thirds of Seattle’s art sector jobs (66%) and more than a third of the city’s cultural spaces (PSRC employment data, Seattle Office of Arts & Culture).

The King County Doors Open science, heritage and arts levy will fund equitable access, support programming in public schools, and increase tourism and revenue through a 0.1% sales tax over the next seven years. This levy, which goes into effect in April 2024, is estimated to direct between $30-40 million to downtown arts organizations.

Downtown Development Snapshot

Permit Applications for New Buildings

Source: City of Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections data
  • The total number of new building permits in downtown increased between 2022 and 2023.
  • In 2023, estimated project costs totaled more than $1.1 billion — 400 million more than the estimated project costs in 2022.
  • According to the Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index, Seattle remained the top U.S. city for the total number of cranes in action with 45 as of Q3 2023. While lower than the peak of 65 cranes in 2018 this figure indicates continued optimism for downtown development.

Among peer downtowns examined, Seattle ranked second for the most building projects currently under construction with 31.

Peer Downtown Projects
By building status

Source: CoStar

In 2023, Seattle ranked second for the number of projects in the final planning stages or being proposed, indicating continued interest in development downtown.

Peer Downtown Residential Units
By building status

Source: CoStar

With more than 6,400 residential units currently under construction, Seattle ranks second among its peers.

Peer Downtown Projects
Only under construction

Source: CoStar

Among peer downtowns, multifamily projects comprised a majority of the projects being developed, making up 70% of the total projects currently under construction.

Notes on Criteria ReferencesCoStar Definitions: The geography used for this analysis is the area within downtown Seattle. The Downtown Seattle Association uses the following boundaries for downtown: South Lake Union to the north to South Lander Street to the south; Elliott Bay to the west and Broadway to the east. For peer downtowns, DSA used CoStar’s definition for each city’s Central Business District (CBD). CoStar defines the CBD as “the center or core downtown area where many different types of major uses are concentrated such as retail, office and/or residential.