On the Wednesday after Election Day, Sierra Hansen hit the one year mark as the executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.
Instead of celebrating the career milestone, Hansen spent part of the day mourning the outcome of the election. In the months leading up to Donald Trump’s win, Hansen has been working to transform the chamber and will continue to do so in 2017.
“We’ve exceeded pretty much every fundraising goal we’ve set for ourselves, we’ve exceeded membership, we’ve continued these traditions in the neighborhood, we’ve revitalized … we’ve done so many new and refreshing things, but there are still really important challenges in our neighborhood,” Hansen said.
While Hansen lives in the Alki neighborhood, she previously lived on the Hill and spent more than two decades of her life working, partying, enjoying the food and drink scene, and finding herself as a young bisexual.
“This is still my heart,” Hansen said.
When Hansen took the job, the chamber set some high goals.
One of the things business owners wanted from the chamber was more networking and meet and greet opportunities. In the commercial core areas on the Hill — Broadway, Pike/Pine, Olive and Denny, 12th, 15th, 19th — Hansen said the chamber has organized events in all but Olive and Denny, which will be held before the end of the year.
In the past, Hansen said Broadway and Pike and Pine have received the most attention, and the other areas need to be included and re-engaged.
The chamber also administers the Broadway Business Improvement Area (BIA), which has existed for 30 years. The assessments for the BIA bring in just under $200,000 which provides services such as cleaning and beautification.
However, for the past nine months, the chamber has been working on a proposal to form an expanded, property-based BIA that is reflective of the needs in each subarea of the Hill.
To pass the new BIA, 60% of the assessed area needs to agree to the formation. After about four months of outreach and education, Hansen said about 25% of the property owners have committed. The Broadway BIA will sunset when the new one is implemented.
“Forming a BIA is not just about cleaning the streets, but it’s also providing more social services, providing advocacy for the neighborhood, marketing, business development, recruitment and retention,” Hansen said.
Hansen’s goal for the new BIA’s formation is mid-2017. The expanded organization would bring in an estimated $1.6 million based on property assessments. Roughly 70% of those funds will go toward street cleaning, hot spot patrols and district-wide social worker outreach. But she said marketing all of Capitol Hill will be a focus as well.
Getting the new BIA passed, is a big part of the Capitol Hill 2020 plan created by the chamber and other community organizations and released in 2015. The plan includes four “Bold Moves” — evolve the chamber, clean and safe district, prepare for growth, vital and active retail.
An early 2017 goal is to form a new organization — the Capitol Hill Alliance — which would take over implementing projects the BIA will fund and economic development on the Hill.
The chamber will eventually dissolve or evolve, depending on how people look at the situation, Hansen said.
“We need to evolve, and we need to evolve as a neighborhood,” Hansen said.
Capitol Hill Housing is working many of the community development aspects of the plan including lighting in Cal Anderson Park and getting dumpsters out of Pike/Pine.
The chamber has added 21 new members since November of last year and has more than 300 businesses, organizations, and individuals in its ranks. Chamber membership is very diverse, Hansen said, and includes professional services, restaurants, retailers, transportation, among others. CHS, by the way, is a chamber member. She said the chamber is also working with the Seattle Police and Fire Departments to work on safety issues, particularly concerning nightlife and shootings.
Short-term fixes have been put in place, like closing the second-floor parking at QFC following gun violence, but she said more law enforcement presence is needed.
However, access to social services also needs to be improved, she said, and the community needs to take a holistic approach to getting people off drugs and housed and keeping crime down.
The organization also seeks to engage the community and people who live outside of the neighborhood. For the past six years, the chamber has hosted Hilloween. But this past October the chamber held the event without Sound Transit mitigation funds because the contact had ended. This year about 20 sponsors, instead of the typical 10 to 15, supported the event. And Hansen said it was one of the most well-attended Hilloweens in recent years.
“I’m so proud that Hilloween happened, and that’s like our big signature event,” she said. “This was really our seventh year where we proved that it could be sustainable and I’m very proud of that.”
The organization also plans to continue to support the Hill as the center of the art and the LGBTQ communities in the city. The chamber used to be more hands-on with the Capitol Hill Art Walk and remains the fiscal agent, but in 2016, backed off on the organization and operations end of the event. But growing the art walk and getting more businesses involved is in the 2017 work plan.
In the new year, Hansen will continue to lead the transition of the organization on Capitol Hill.
And while Trump may be the leader of the free world for the next four years, Hansen said there is silver lining — artists are typically the ones raising awareness of political unrest through music, performances, paintings, etc.
“And you know where they’re all going to perform? They’re going to perform in Capitol Hill,” Hansen said.