Downtown Seattle Association’s annual gathering last week drew over 1,000 business owners, residents, and office tower workers to The Westin hotel Thursday morning. Amid the reports of downtown’s growing density (20 new buildings in 2015 added 3,600 units) and booming job growth (half of Seattle workers are now downtown), speakers also stressed the importance of connecting downtown to other neighborhoods, especially Capitol Hill.
The reasons are twofold. Putting Capitol Hill’s arts, culture, and dining within easy reach adds to downtown’s claims as a livable, family-friendly neighborhood. Enhancing that connection also presents a clear marketing opportunity for downtown developers and investors.
DSA officials and panelists said that connective tissue would depend on the downtown community supporting better transit, more infill development, and yes, even a lid over I-5. Mayor Ed Murray spoke about the importance of easing “street disorder” through expanding the Seattle Housing Levy. “There is nothing more important we can do for homelessness than passing that levy,” he said. Murray also praised the work of the homeless outreach program that recently expanded to Capitol Hill.
Capitol Hill was well represented on the “local leaders” panel, which included Chophouse Row and Melrose Market developer Liz Dunn and lead designer for the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, Liz Muller.
“I look forward to creating a good connection between the two (neighborhoods)” Dunn said, noting the changes already planned for the I-5 canyon area. “I get more and more excited about this incredible, vibrant walk.”
Seattle Channel moderator Brian Callanan delivered the most cringeworthy line of the morning when he asked how relevant “little miss Chophouse” could really be to the bottom line of large developers in attendance.
“The smaller, more handcrafted projects I do are just as rewarding financially over the long term than larger, more generic projects,” Dunn said in response. “I like to think I create assets that grow in value over time … I try to select tenants in the same way.”
But the most transformative force coming to downtown Seattle? Driverless cars. That was the message of Stanford University lecturer and author Tony Seba, who predicts the notion of car ownership will very soon be obsolete. Seba argued that within a matter of a decade, traffic congested cities like Seattle will actually find they have far too much parking and too many highways.
“This disruption will provide downtowns with the best opportunity to redesign our urban landscape in a century,” he said. “Downtown Seattle has an estimated 18 million square feet of parking spots, most of them could be freed up. Imagine what downtown could do with that much space.”
Unfortunately, a video that played directly after Seba’s speech touted, among other things, the 300 new parking spaces coming with the Pike Place Market expansion.
In his closing remarks, DSA president and CEO Jon Scholes said downtown was on the cusp of a radical growth spurt, as 48 construction projects hummed along in the blocks surrounding the Westin. “We’re moving towards a 24 hour downtown,” he said.