The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce is ready to start its campaign to build a $1.6 million a year program to help fill empty store fronts, attract visitors, expand street cleaning, improve public safety, advocate for affordable housing and improved service from City Hall, and make local attractions like Cal Anderson Park more inviting. Now the nonprofit just needs 390, or 60%, of some 650 commercial property owners to sign on to its plan to expand the neighborhood’s Business Improvement Area across Broadway, 12th Ave, 15th Ave E, 19th Ave E, Melrose, Olive/Denny, and Pike/Pine. If it can hit that threshold, all commercial properties in the BIA will be required to pay into the program.
“It’s gonna be a lot of groundwork,” director Sierra Hansen told CHS about the expansion campaign. Starting with Wednesday night’s announcement of the campaign’s launch, the chamber this week is delivering petitions to the 650 property owners within the proposed new BIA boundary. “I’m a very stubborn person,” Hansen said.
She is also already half way there.
In advance of the launch at Wednesday’s annual State of the Hill event attended by Mayor Ed Murray and honoring 2017 Spirit of the Hill award winners developer Liz Dunn and Jill Cronauer of Capitol Hill real estate developer Hunters Capital, the chamber says it has secured buy-in from the 30% of the property owners to be impacted by the assessments which could run between $2,000 and $5,000 per year for most properties.
Wednesday night, the chamber brought Hunters Capital chief Michael Malone up on stage to — as the second largest property owner in the proposed BIA — show his support. “We’re going to take Capitol Hill forward in Seattle,” the longtime real estate investor and owner of the Sorrento Hotel said. “Join me, please.” Later in the night, Malone told CHS his assessments under the program would likely end up in the range of $45,000 a year across his several Capitol Hill properties.
Support also reportedly includes the largest owner in the bunch — Seattle Central. Smaller players like the architects at Board and Vellum and the booksellers at Elliott Bay Book Company are also counted among the campaign’s early supporters along with First Covenant Church, Liz Dunn’s Dunn & Hobbes, and developer 300EPine St. Of course, Board and Vellum doesn’t own the 15th Ave building it calls home and Elliott Bay is a tenant of Hunters Capital on 10th Ave. But Hansen said garnering support from the neighborhood’s businesses — many who might see some of the costs passed on to them via higher rents and many who hope to see the day to day improvements around their businesses that the program could bring — is key to swaying property owners.
She also said overcoming cost concerns and, sometimes, ignorance is part of the challenge. Some property owners who are “fiscally minded” want to know what they are going to get from the few thousand dollar assessments. Others ask why the City of Seattle isn’t handling the program’s attributes like graffiti clean-up already.
“Why isn’t the city doing this?” they ask, Hansen said. “You need to give folks a basic civics lesson.”
60% of all potential members in the existing and newly proposed area must vote to approve any agreement to create new borders under the city’s Office of Economic Development program. Then each BIA agreement must be approved by the Seattle City Council. The Capitol Hill group’s announcement of the campaign notes that many of the city’s business districts have pursued creation of the areas. The expanded Capitol Hill BIA would be similar in structure to ones in Pioneer Square, SODO, University District, Ballard, West Seattle and downtown, the chamber says.
With seven sub-areas stretching from I-5 up the Hill across 850 independent parcels of property, the Capitol Hill BIA will be a complicated beast. “Capitol Hill is going to have the most complex BIA of any neighborhood in this city,” Hansen said. “Even though we’re smaller than downtown, we’re more complex.”
A BIA’s presence extends well beyond trash and graffiti. The organizations have become conduits for solving neighborhood issues and are the recipients of a growing portion of city funding. Police and other departments check in with the boards and program leaders for buy-in, sign-off and community representation. But most importantly, the organizations are allowed to raise funds in a way previously enjoy only at City Hall. A BIA is funded through assessment revenue collected from businesses, organizations, and commercial landowners within its borders.
The chamber has administered the existing Broadway Business Improvement Area for 30 years. The assessments for the BIA bring in just under $200,000 which provides services such as cleaning and beautification.
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. Marketing, of course, will also be a focus.
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 goal for the sign-up campaign is to have agreements in place by June or July. That would put the plan on track for an early 2018 launch of the new program.
The expanded program will also mean a new organization on the Hill. The Capitol Hill Alliance will either replace or envelop the existing chamber and board, and will take over implementing projects funded by the assessments and pushing forward economic development of the Hill. More funding will mean more people working with Hansen and her small team. And that, she says, will be much better for the neighborhood.
“One of the beauties of the new alliance,” Hansen said,” is there will be more time to think about what the future of the neighborhood is.”
It will also mean, Hansen said, a honed focus with a greater emphasis on economic development and, likely, a move away from some of the community efforts championed by the chamber of the past.
“We were a strong community organization,” Hansen said, “but we really needed to invest in ourselves as a business organization.”
CHS is a longtime Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce member business and the chamber is a regular CHS advertiser.