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.