City responds to 23rd Ave businesses trying to survive street overhaul


Help is on the way for small business owners on 23rd Ave who say they are on the ropes as a major overhaul of the busy corridor has choked traffic and pushed pedestrians off sidewalks. But it’s not the help they asked for.

Friday afternoon, City Hall representatives tell CHS “project improvements and community financial assistance” are coming to the street at the direction of Mayor Ed Murray.

“As we reconstruct 23rd Avenue, we will do more to respond to the needs and concerns of business owners, with marketing assistance, improved signage and individualized consultations. We want all of our Central Area businesses to succeed during the disruption,” Murray said. “When the project is complete, neighborhood businesses and residents will enjoy a more walkable, active atmosphere with improved access to shops and services.”

23rd Ave owners will not be getting the direct cash relief they have called for, but two city agencies are promising to address some key concerns with the 23rd Avenue Corridor Complete Streets Project.

Responding to community concerns about the project, the Seattle Department of Transportation will reorder its construction schedule to reopen 23rd between Jackson and Yesler in March, one to two months earlier than currently planned. The Office of Economic Development will also provide $102,000 of new funding for marketing the area and business support — but not direct mitigation payments to area businesses. The city said the additional funding follows recent grants of $220,000 for “economic and cultural development projects” in the Central District.

SDOT will also introduce a variant of the Construction Hub program that has been utilized to help improve conditions for businesses around Pike/Pine’s busy blocks of redevelopment. An inspector for the project has been named and designated as a point person for merchant concerns during 23rd Ave construction. You can reach Eric Sadler at (206) 391-7854 and help him in his role “to closely monitor contractor construction activities, and to hear and respond directly to business concerns.”


The marketing money to assist the neighborhood is part of funds already earmarked for the Central District as part of the Only in Seattle initiative. The mayor announced the 2015 “$1.8 million investment in 21 neighborhood business districts” last March and the rest of the 2016 roster will be released soon. The initiative “works with businesses, property owners, and other community leaders to organize around a common vision for a business district and attract investment.” The existing $102,000 grant supports the Central Area Collaborative, a group of business and community leaders, working on projects like Hack the CD and the Black Dot arts and business co-working space.

The response comes after weeks of social media pressure by 701 Coffee owner Sara Mae, who told CHS her business had trickled to $70 in sales a day since construction started in June. Mae also got the attention of City Council member Kshama Sawant, who is deploying a familiar game plan with a rally at 701 Coffee on Saturday to call for mitigation funds for businesses:

Councilmember Kshama Sawant is scheduled to rally in front of 701 Coffee, then walk 23rd Ave corridor to meet small business owners, and hear their stories while surveying the massive construction project that is devastating our livlihoods. Time is subject to change slightly if Kshama Sawant is running behind schedule. All are invited to show your support for 23rd Ave Small Businesses. Show your support by Liking, Sharing, and showing up to stand in solidarity with our Small Businesses! Thanks for supporting us, and getting the message out. Mitigation Money NOW!

Cash relief would not be unprecedented, even though officials say city policy prohibits it. Fifteen waterfront businesses were offered a chunk of $15 million to close during the reconstruction of the seawall. SDOT says it was an exception because the project required all access to the businesses to be removed.

“They did not give us the option to close,” Mae said prior to Friday’s announcements.


A lawsuit in 2002 prompted the City and Sound Transit to create a $50 million mitigation fund to help businesses along MLK Way cope with light rail construction in the mid-2000s. The Rainier Valley Community Development Fund provided so-called business interruption payments to businesses along the corridor. Sound Transit also budgeted roughly $100,000 a year in business mitigation funds while the U-Link light rail project disrupted Broadway, though the funds were not direct assistance.

On an even grander scale, Sound Transit negotiated a $43 million deal with the University of Washington to move lab spaces impacted by light rail construction.


The road construction projects spanning Montlake, Capitol Hill, and the Central District will transform the street into a new configuration with a center left-turn lane and improve the pedestrian and sidewalk experience. The new layout will allow buses to pull completely out of the traffic lane at stops. Crews are also replacing a 100-year-old water main between E Madison and E Union.

Plans for the $43 million overhaul were scheduled to span 20 months in the first phase, broken into three zones.

  • Zone A – S Jackson St to E Cherry St: June 2015 – spring 2016; current detour
  • Zone B – E Cherry St to E Union St: November 30, 2015 – summer 2016; current detour; early utility work completed
  • Zone C – E Union St to E John St: spring or summer 2016 – early 2017; early utility work began October 26

Phase 2 covers the work south of Jackson and Phase 3 will handle 23rd/24th from E John to E Roanoke in Montlake. Meanwhile, construction of the “hybrid” bike and pedestrian route shadowing the 23rd Ave corridor continues with relatively minimal disruption to neighboring residents.

“We are extremely supportive of the vision to have a complete street in one of the most critical neighborhoods in the city,” SDOTs deputy director of planning Barbra Gray said Friday.

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27 thoughts on “City responds to 23rd Ave businesses trying to survive street overhaul

  1. What’s involved in changing the timing of traffic signals? Though there is no north bound traffic currently, the light cycles don’t reflect that and leave everyone standing or sitting around while nothing is moving. It was poorly timed to begin with, with a constant backlog of cars waiting to turn left onto 23rd. Is it really that difficult to reprogram the timing? I know I’m not the only person who avoided that intersection both by car and on foot long before all this construction. Not to mention the garbage strewn sidewalk just west of 23rd.

  2. The owner of that coffee shop knew well in advance that the construction was going to happen yet she still decided to open the shop anyway now she’s whining about business going down?

    The other owners I feel really sorry for…but not someone that opened a store knowing exactly what was going to happen.

    • CompGuy None of the merchants knew what was coming. They city was supposed to do it in 3 phases that wouldn’t be nearly as bad. The project got behind schedule and SDOT decided to go “all in” and scrap the phases. It has been a total unmanaged disaster. Basically the city has broken its agreement with the community and should do something to help. “Businesses Open” signs, rebranding the neighborhood, ads etc are not going to help at this point. These merchants need help with rent, utilities etc, otherwise half of them won’t be in business when this project is done and will never get to enjoy the benefits of the pretty streets and bike lanes.

  3. You want a better photo of what’s going on over here, check out Facebook: Death Of Central Area Businesses

    Everything the Mayor’s Office just cam out with is 1000% rehash of what they’ve been telling all of our Small Businesses up 23rd Ave this past year as we are being crushed economically.

    Nothing new to see here. I know this for a fact….I’m right here, ground ZERO!

  4. Sounds like the damage has already been done for some of these businesses and the response is too little, too late. I second the light timing comments made by Betty. Extremely poor planning is on display here at many levels.

  5. I’m reading through all of the previous articles on this situation in order to get all the facts and form my opinion. I noticed something odd:

    From the interview reporting the opening of 701 coffee on this blog: “Sara [the owner] said she also is sensitive to opening a white-owned business in the Central District.”

    But in a comment to the most recent article on the construction before this one, Sara says “100% of the businesses impacted by this construction work are Minority, and Family Owned.”

    I’m confused. I don’t particularly care what the truth is; I just find the inconsistency interesting.

    • Correct, my business is a Family Owned Business.

      “…Minority….AND….Family Owned.”

      Our Small Business IS a Family Owned Small Business, ran by myself, my kids, and my wife.

      I happen to leave out LGBTQ, which I am a transsexual female. The reason I left it out is because I didn’t want to attract any attention away from what’s going on down here.

      I have been including LGBTQ for some time now though…just happen to not include it in the post you outlined. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • I should add that if you want to come in, and have a face-2face explanation of why I was initially hesitant to add LGBTQ to the posts, feel free to come in, and I’ll make you a cup.

      I have nothing to hide…my door is wide open.

    • Thanks for your clarification, Sara.

      One place where we disagree: “100% of the businesses…are minority AND family-owned” means all of the businesses are both minority-owned and family-owned. If they were one or the other it would be “minority OR family-owned”. Semantics, yes, but semantics can be important.

      But the bigger point is that, you’re right, I didn’t consider sexual and gender minorities. That’s because in US employment and commerce law “minority-owned” has a very specific and official meaning as referring to racial minorities, and given my work I applied that definition reflexively.

      I can easily understand why a small business owner wouldn’t want to self-disclose as trans, and I’m sorry that I put you in that spot.

      As for coming down to your shop, I might some day. But I don’t actually go out for coffee much, and when I do, I’m already a satisfied customer at Cortona. It’s also a minority-owned locally-owned business, and I love going there for many reasons, not least of which is that the owner (Ice) has created a wonderful welcoming space for queer folks of color. If I could clone myself I’d send the other me to hang out at your business, but that’s currently beyond my abilities……….

    • What I did is started using the terms “People Of Color” and “LGBTQ” because the term “Minority” has various implications depending on the individual reading.

      Also, it allowed for a specificity that the term Minority just doesn’t allow for. One term I have left out is “Immigrant.” I’m guessing more than half, if not 2/3’s of the Small Business owners are Immigrants.

      For the sake of keeping the line flowing proper I have stuck with “People Of Color, LGBTQ, Family Owned Small Businesses.”

      My wife, and I went to Cortona last weekend…it’s a nice little spot.

      I’ve been working on opening my space to Queer folks at NOVA, and Garfield for community events…busy, busy, busy though.

      Take it easy!

  6. Here’s some food for thought about the 23rd Ave corridor, according to the responses to the SEPA Application (linked below):

    SEPA App

    “23rd Avenue is a principal arterial that connects a variety of users to business, educational institutions, and residences in the Central District and beyond. This area serves high volumes of vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users (approximately 5,800 daily transit riders— the eighth highest ridership in King County)…”

    23rd Ave is a PRINCIPLE arterial. Now, when you take 4 lanes, and reduce it down to 1 southbound lane winding through a 4 mile construction zone there are consequences.

    When you shut down the 8th largest transit corridor, there are consequences.

    People simply stop taking that route…and the ones that do are doing everything they can to be there the shortest time possible.


    “7. …

    The project is not expected to impact the movement of any vehicles in the project area. Construction of the project may cause temporary impacts as traffic is detoured off of the road, but this will be temporary”

    Temporary? They sold us that it would be temporary. Then we find out the temporary project is going to be strangling access for at least 2 years. That’s not temporary.

    • Bob – Sawant hasn’t offered anything other than a tweet telling people that the businesses are open and to patronize them. SHe is supposed to come and talk to people today (Saturday ) at 2PM. It would be great to meet you.

    • Ian, is this a public meeting with Sawant? Is there anyone else in attendance? I live in the area and am supportive of the reconstruction but appalled by how this is being handled. There is no access to businesses along 23rd.

  7. I have been living a few blocks away from the corner of 23rd and Cherry for for almost 20 years and am thrilled with the recent interest that small business owners have shown in the area. I would imagine opening a business is a challenge and requires significant business acumen’s that I do not posses, but even I could have told you that opening a business on that corner would be a losing bet. It is a dark, unfriendly, high vehicle traffic, low pedestrian and dangerous corner without a single welcoming feature. I am sure all of the previous shop owners in that location could have told you the same.
    I respectfully request that not a single dollar of my taxes be applied towards propping up a business without a solid business plan, construction or not.
    You can use the construction as an excuse to close up shop without the embarrassment of having to close because of the lack of a solid business plan, I guarantee that if you get the funding to keep you open through the construction you will be closing the doors within a few months.
    I would be interested in hearing from the other business that are being impacted by the construction, Ezell’s seems to be doing fine and did not apply for community help when Garfield was closed for 2 years.

  8. I hate to say this, but I would not make the choice to frequent the current businesses along 23rd even during times where there is no construction. I walk to work and part of my route crosses or goes along 23rd, so I am familiar with the types of businesses there. They just don’t have what I need or want, with the exception of Red Apple for an occasional non-perishable food item or Walgreens for a basic item like toothpaste. My disposable income for things like coffee is very limited, and on the rare occasions when I treat myself I want to go to a coffee shop that has a pleasant environment. I will go way out of my way and walk the much greater distance to a place like Verite. Even before construction started, the atmosphere on 23rd just felt run down and uninviting.

    That being said, the street construction project does seem like an disorganized and poorly planned mess.

  9. Why is anyone commenting here targeting individual businesses for their decision to open in a location that is perfectly viable under normal circumstances?? That’s not the problem. This project is dragging on and these businesses need compensation, not marketing. They need cash allowances to keep them going while the project is completed. Then they need marketing support after. Similar to what waterfront businesses are getting during the tunnel project.

    As for 23rd and Cherry-how does anyone expect the area to improve if new businesses don’t open? Not sure why you are targeting this specific business (701 Coffee). Plus, there have been viable businesses there in the past, both on that corner and across the street that probably preceded the recollection or knowledge of most reading this, or even living in Seattle or the neighborhood.

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