With workplace staff gone, downtown Seattle residents turned the neighborhood’s financial lifeblood

With workplace staff gone, downtown Seattle residents turned the neighborhood’s financial lifeblood

Downtown Seattle was decimated by the pandemic. Workplace buildings are 22% vacant proper now — that’s like one in 5 towers being darkish. However the downtown core is displaying shocking indicators of life.

KUOW development and improvement reporter Joshua McNichols went to determine why, in Half 1 of our 3-part collection, “Dowtown Reimagined.,”


n downtown Seattle, there’s a meals courtroom beneath an workplace constructing close to Westlake Park. Workplace staff was an enormous a part of the client base for eating places there.

Pankaj Kakkar used to eat at Café Zum Zum recurrently. However now, he solely comes into the workplace as soon as per week.

“I often simply eat at dwelling. There’s at all times leftovers from the weekend, or there’s one thing frozen within the fridge, so it finally ends up being one thing like that,” he mentioned.

The lack of common prospects has been laborious on the proprietor of the Pakistani restaurant, Shaw Mahmood.

“We’re barely surviving, you recognize. I work very laborious for my life. I don’t need to go away like this. I’m a fighter. I’m going to maintain going, so long as I can,” he mentioned.

caption: Cafe Zum Zum owner Shaw Mahmood behind the counter of his restaurant.

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Foot site visitors in downtown is a few third larger than it was this time final yr, however not each enterprise is seeing the advantages of that.

There’s a definite sample through which form of companies are struggling — and that are doing OK. People who rely on workplace staff are hurting, however many who cater to downtown residents are doing a lot better.

Alchemy, a excessive finish furnishings retailer in Belltown, had an excellent ultimate quarter final yr. Simply across the nook, Erin Meyer manages a retailer that sells bedding.

caption: Nest sells bedding in Belltown

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Whenever you stroll in Nest, it is crammed with the sound of tropical birds.

“It’s what the individuals upstairs need me to do,” Meyer mentioned, including that it’s a part of the entire “nest” theme. “In some unspecified time in the future, you simply tune it out.”

Meyer mentioned her retailer has seen quite a lot of prospects coming in recently — individuals furnishing their nests.

“I’d say it’s positively native people, so we get quite a lot of people within the space,” that means individuals who dwell in condos and residences close by, she defined. “There’s truly an condo constructing proper above us, so we get quite a lot of these people.”

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The residents have been important to creating this enterprise extra resilient, and to downtown’s total financial restoration. However like most downtown companies, it isn’t simply the residents serving to Nest thrive — vacationers and different guests assist, too.

“Issues are actually getting again to regular once more,” Meyer mentioned.

In 2021, the New York Instances ranked downtowns by way of how dependent they had been on places of work. Boston and San Francisco ranked poorly, as a result of they’re dominated by workplace buildings. Boston is 83% workplace towers; San Francisco’s 74%.

However in Seattle, solely half of downtown is workplace house. This places Seattle at a relative benefit proper now, when so many places of work are vacant.

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This isn’t by chance — it’s the results of years of metropolis planning.

Within the Eighties, downtowns all over the place had been struggling as a result of so many individuals had moved to the suburbs. To attract individuals downtown once more, elected leaders modified Seattle’s zoning to encourage residential towers, and improved the general public transportation system.

caption: Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association stands for a photo.

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Jon Scholes is the president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Affiliation. He mentioned Belltown was one of many first downtown neighborhoods to learn from this planning.

“Belltown nonetheless is likely one of the extra dynamic neighborhoods in downtown, and has advanced and adjusted over time, however nonetheless has lots to supply, quite a lot of nice nightlife and bars, as a result of there’s a built-in buyer base that isn’t heading for the hills at 5 o’clock each evening,” Scholes mentioned.

For the reason that Eighties, the residential inhabitants downtown has quintupled from about 20,000 individuals to over 100,000 as we speak.

Scholes mentioned that makes Seattle’s downtown residential inhabitants one of many quickest rising of any metropolis in North America.

And there are one other 5,000 residences within the allow pipeline.

As spectacular as that’s, it’s not sufficient new properties to satisfy pent-up demand. And a few consultants say excessive rates of interest might gradual housing improvement down for awhile, whilst demand grows extra.

However what if Seattle’s downside may very well be became an answer?

Seattle’s downtown is struggling due to vacant and underused places of work. On the similar time, the area wants extra housing. That has lots of people asking: Why don’t we convert extra downtown places of work to residences?

In Half 2 of our collection “Downtown Reimagined,” we’ll go to Tacoma to see why town has grow to be a hotbed for this strategy — and have a look at whether or not it might work for Seattle.

This collection debuted as a mini-documentary on KUOW’s program, Soundside.