All Roads Lead to Downtown

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What would a “State of Downtown” meeting be without the annual address by Downtown Seattle Association president and CEO Kate Joncas.  Her speech this year was especially upbeat, noting that we’re proudly celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair with some seminal events, including the arrival of the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center and opening of the Dale Chihuly art exhibition and a new children’s playground on the Seattle Center grounds.

Joncas heralded the news that Downtown Seattle’s population has grown 77 percent since 1990, while the city as a whole grew only 19 percent. Nearly 10 percent of Seattleites now live downtown. The city has experienced more residential growth than all of its peer downtowns of Boston, Denver, Charlotte, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco.

“Some people want to move down here so much that they’ve even brought their own housing,” Joncas said. The words were barely out of her mouth when the room erupted into  laughter. Behind her, the jumbo screen was showing the tents of Occupy Seattle spread out across Westlake Park.

Joncas had some pending items on her agenda, noting that Seattle still lacks a downtown school despite the fact that there are 3,000 kids 19 years of age and younger living in downtown neighborhoods, nearly 1,000 of those being preschoolers. She lamented that many parents move away when their children reach school age.  There was mention of “too expensive parking rates” and the negative effect they might be having on evening dining in some downtown neighborhoods.

Still there was a lot of good news.  Never shy about Seattle’s accolades, she noted that Seattle is one of the “best cities for young professionals,” “No. 1 post-recession mecca for young skilled workers” and picked as “one of the geekiest cities in America” by the U.S. National Science Foundation.”

She reported that the number of coffee shops (242) in downtown Seattle had rebounded since the recession and is now back to 2009 levels. As she said, “One shop for every 971 Seattleites, but way below our needs.” The number of bars is up 11 percent and, to show that we’re not all geeks, the number of spas is up 171 percent.  Pedestrian counts are up, Joncas said, cheering the  good news that the city has a move underway to clean up 3rd avenue.

Joncas’ turn at the mike was followed by Blake Nordstrom, president of Nordstrom who cautioned that downtown’s recovery remains “fragile. He spoke about an increased emphasis on four downtown  imperatives: “live, work, shop and play.”  He said that it’s no surprise that Seattle is home to Amazon, recently named the U. S. company with the best service. He said, “What’s important are a company’s values and principles.” No accident that Nordstrom, long known for its outsized dedication to customer satisfaction, also happens to be based in Seattle. Takes one to know one.