We won’t try to quantify it. We won’t even try to say things have gotten worse. Perhaps, per capita, it’s as messy and filthy as ever. But, a victim of its own success, Pike/Pine is grubby and gritty. Broadway — bastion of cleanliness — could be one model for cleaning it up.
“It comes up because Pike/Pine merchants will ask, why don’t we get our streets cleaned? But there’s more to it than that,” says Michael Wells, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.
The Capitol Hill chamber is described as the “administrative agent” for the entity known as the Broadway Business Improvement Area. Created in 1986, the organization is one of seven such districts in Seattle. Here’s how the areas work:
A BIA provides an annual budget to fund services and improvements in neighborhood business districts by assessing property and/or business owners who benefit from the improvements. BIA funds can be used for services such as parking, joint marketing, cleanup and maintenance, security, special events, beautification, and professional management. The City contracts with each BIA, and each BIA is governed by a ratepayer’s advisory board. The City collects the assessments and reimburses BIA expenses.
For the Broadway BIA, that adds up to a more than $400,000 budget for everything from litter and graffiti removal along Broadway, to banners to hanging flower baskets and holiday decorations.
“I know that for Capitol Hill there’s been a shift or maybe broadening in economic activity to the Pike/Pine area, a shift not envisioned when the BIA first started,” Seattle City Council president Sally Clark writes. “Back then you still had Broadway Market as a beehive, Bailey/Coy and others making that northern stretch of Broadway feel like the hub. (It felt like a hub back when I worked the Bulldog News stand in the Market.)”
“Now you have this intense stretch of activity up and down Pike/Pine,” Clark said. “Major Capitol Hill economic activity has stretched out, but the boundaries of the ‘special attention’ area haven’t changed. “
The money to suport a BIA comes from a mixed recipe — each of the city’s zones have a different combination of funding. On the Hill, membership fees and an assessment based on gross income — $2 for every $1,000 generated — provide the bulk of the program’s budget. The smallest of businesses in the assessment zone pay in the area of $100 year plus the membership fees. Larger players are capped at a maximum of $3,500 per year — though we’re told that hasn’t been a ceiling often reached.
Dave Meinert, already a member of a downtown improvement area, says he would support expansion to “help Pike/ Pine keep streets cleaner” and so the neighborhood “would also benefit from other services provided.” Money from the Capitol Hill Block Party festival he helped to create could also help power a BIA. CHS reported on Block Party’s expanding community involvement here.
Jill Cronauer of developer and property manager Hunters Capital — which has several holdings that could potentially fall within an expanded BIA zone — says an expanded program would better help distribute “the financial responsibility” of keeping up the neighborhood:
BIA’s have several benefits and from a landlord’s perspective, the general maintenance services and graffiti removal provided by CleanScapes is the greatest. This is a service we pay for out of pocket nearly every day already. Not every landlord does this so at times we end up picking up the trash from our neighbors. This is a huge expense! With a BIA, the financial responsibility is spread around. Everyone pays, everyone benefits, and the streets, sidewalks and storefronts are more enjoyable for everyone.
A BIA’s presence also extends beyond trash and graffiti. The organizations have become conduits for solving neighborhood issues and opportunities with city programs. SPD and other departments check in with the boards and program leaders for buy-in, sign-off and community representation. In short, at a civic level, the groups have clout.
Despite the enthusiasm for growth, to expand the Broadway BIA to Pike/Pine and create a larger Capitol Hill assessment zone is a significant undertaking. Under the current agreement, the Broadway BIA is limited to changes in its assessment rates and borders that come in under a 10% increase in assessment revenue. That would be a slow route to spreading the program south. But it could be less painful than forging a more significant overhaul.
60% of all potential members in the existing and newly proposed area would need vote to approve any agreement to create the new borders under the city’s Office of Economic Development program. Then the agreement must be approved by the City Council. How the new zone is established and what powerful players are in and out can make or break the effort.
A mid-2000s push to create a Capitol Hill Improvement District with an expanded mandate died a slow, quiet death marked by infighting over how the program should be shaped. It has taken seven years but the Hill’s business community might finally be ready to broach a similar topic again.
“That’s the question for the property owners and their tenants south of the existing boundary,” Council president Clark said. “Is it time to expand the boundaries? More activity is great, but it can also mean more mess on a Saturday morning, more graffiti to paint out.”
Meanwhile, the Broadway business community’s stomach for changing the program may also have to make room for a levy program to help pay for the extension of the streetcar to near Volunteer Park. Pike/Pine could also go it alone and form its own BIA. Perhaps 15th Ave will also want a piece of the action. And the membership fee and grant-driven Chamber itself must wrestle with its role in the shadow of a possible assessment-funded, combined Broadway-Pike/Pine business group.
The soul searching going on around the Broadway BIA and a potential expansion isn’t unique to Capitol Hill. People familiar with the program and city officials say similar issues are coming up in the six other improvement areas around the city. The OED has brought in a contractor to work with the BIAs and examine how they are performing and how many of them might expand. Will Capitol Hill lead the way?
“What’s the most active business district on the Hill?” the Chamber’s Wells asks. No need to answer the rhetorical. “What’s the best model to make it happen?” That last one the businesses and organizations of Broadway and Pike/Pine will need to sort out.