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City Council Approves Councilmember Pedersen’s Renewal of the University District’s Business Improvement Area (BIA)

BIAs keep neighborhood business districts vibrant; U District BIA now will also focus on preventing displacement

SEATTLE – Today the City Council unanimously approved the legislation co-sponsored by Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4, Northeast Seattle) to reauthorize the Business Improvement Area (BIA) in the University District, which is the heart of District 4. 

Business Improvement Areas are positive, community-driven economic development tools that help keep neighborhood business districts clean and safe throughout our city,” said Pedersen. “The legislation I crafted with the Mayor incorporates many key principles sought by smaller businesses, including better representation, good governance, and the preservation of existing shops and restaurantsDuring and after the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to give our small neighborhood businesses the support they need to thrive.”

The University District includes our world-class university and a new light rail station that is opening next year. The U District has some of the most diverse international selections of food and hundreds of units of low-income housing. A study of The Ave found that nearly 2/3 of its small businesses are owned by women and people of color. Concerns about displacement have deepened as the U District has been designated as an “Urban Center” and is slated to absorb substantial new building density with recent and potentially new upzones.

Currently the U District the BIA funds and operates a Clean and Safe program, including a new REACH program assisting unsheltered and other high barrier individuals.  During the COVID-19 crisis, the BIA is also linking many of the small businesses to relief programs. The BIA, with its one million dollar budget, was set to expire this spring if not renewed by the City Council.

In addition to the robust input from small businesses, neighborhood leaders, and the University of Washington, I’m very grateful for the steady leadership of Committee Chair Tammy Morales and her staff for leading the legislation through her Community and Economic Development Committee,” said Pedersen. “They along with my staff, our City Council Central Staff, and the teams from Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and City Attorney’s Office, were able to overcome challenges at a critical time due to the BIA expiration amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a careful review of the previous BIA ordinance, Pedersen listened to the concerns raised by several small businesses with triple net leases — through which landlords pass major costs to the proprietor, including taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs — and attempted to synthesize the variety of input. Pedersen worked with the Mayor’s office to reform the BIA for the U District in what became Council Bill 119779.

Key improvements in the adopted legislation include:

Better Representation:

  • Adds two small businesses with “triple net” leases to the board.
  • Adds a residential tenant to the board.
  • Right sizes and caps Ratepayer Advisory Board membership for more proportional representation.

Good Governance:

  • Creates a new competitive process to select the most qualified Program Manager to run the BIA’s services.
  • Imposes Term Limits on the Ratepayer Advisory Board.

Prevents Displacement:

  • Adds the prevention of displacement to the BIA’s mission to help existing businesses, including those owned by women and people of color, stay in the U District despite economic changes and challenges.
  • Mitigating displacement is imperative as the U District continues to undergo substantial changes due to governmental actions such as upzoning the density allowed and installing a new light rail station set to open in 2021.
  • The prevention of displacement could serve as a model for other BIAs.

Not all community stakeholders fully approved the ordinance as introduced, so Pedersen offered a compromise amendment for a 10-year term, since the original legislation sought to more than double the BIA from a 5-year term to a 12-year term. Pedersen’s amendment also would have started the competitive process for the Program Manager much sooner. That amendment, however, failed with a vote of 3 to 6.

The newly reauthorized 12-year BIA for the U District will be administered by the Office of Economic Development and the Financial and Administrative Services Department. It is one of 10 BIAs across Seattle.

For more information on this topic, please visit Alex Pedersen’s blog: https://pedersen.seattle.gov/.

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About Councilmember Alex Pedersen:  Before his election in Nov 2019 to represent the 100,000 residents of Seattle’s District 4, Alex Pedersen worked on community development, affordable housing, and fiscal accountability issues for 25 years in both the public and private sectors.  After earning a Master of Government Administration, he served the Clinton Administration at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). His career includes 15 years managing financial analysts to fund the preservation, renovation, or construction of over 30,000 units of affordable housing across the country. He served as Legislative Aide to former Council President Tim Burgess and crafted the original resolution that became the nationally acclaimed Seattle Preschool Program enacted by voters in 2014. Alex and his wife have been raising their two children in Northeast Seattle for over a decade.

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