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Is it time for Capitol Hill Arts District to add development incentives?


As we celebrate the two dozen or so new restaurants, bars, and cafes slated to open around Capitol Hill in 2016 — and we do think local, creative, independent ventures are worth celebrating — we can also remember the bones buried beneath the latest layer of neighborhood change.

Seattle Is Too Expensive For Artists Who Help It Boom, KUOW says at it weighs in with an examination of artists and affordability on Capitol Hill through the lens of a musical gear shop forced to shutter:

Chris Lomba says that what ultimately killed High Voltage was the demise of the Chop House, a nearby building that once housed a warren of rehearsal studios for rock bands. Now the Chop House is called Chop House Row, housing hip restaurants, vendors and a private club.

And a city designation that is mostly about marketing at this point:

“There are neighborhoods where the wave has crashed, neighborhoods where the wave is actively crashing, and neighborhoods where you can see the wave coming,” Richter explains. “In Pike/Pine, I think, the wave has crashed and the undertow is in the process of pulling affordability and the cultural footprint out of the neighborhood.”

Is there any hope for creativity beyond cocktails and dinner?

One epilogue (or is it a prequel?) to the KUOW story is how High Voltage lives on — sort of — at Capitol Loans. But there’s no pretending that disproves anything about the story.

More useful could be more work on the Capitol Hill Arts District. As we reported at its November 2014 launch, the City of Seattle effort left the box as a marketing initiative with tools like a website dedicated to cataloging “arts spaces” around the Hill. But Matthew Richter of the Office of Arts and Culture doesn’t have many other “tools” to work with at this point. Meanwhile, a Central Area arts district has also been created.

When we first reported on City Council member Nick Licata’s work to create an arts districts program in Seattle out of the Capitol Hill Cultural Overlay process, we talked to the City Hall legislator about the districts eventually including incentive and preservation programs:

What if, in exchange for preserving a popular neighborhood graffiti wall or including a theater or gallery space in their plans, developers were allowed to build an extra floor of apartments?

What if the city’s landmarks board began to consider “cultural merit” when doling out protection status?

What if Seattle treated culture as a valuable asset worthy of conservation?

Today, with a new City Council sworn in and Licata retired, a new effort will need to be pushed forward. Lisa Herbold, former legislative assistant to Licata, will now head the Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development and Arts committee. Every development incentive program comes with tremendous risk. Click here if you’ve ever wondered why developers aren’t incentivized to save entire buildings in the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District. But maybe cultural “facadism” could have saved the Chophouse Studios.

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5 thoughts on “Is it time for Capitol Hill Arts District to add development incentives?” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. I’m not sure I can see the logic in using very valuable and very limited space for non-intense use like band practice rooms. Place high intense uses in the expensive places, and low intense uses in the less expensive places.

  2. When was the golden age of Capitol Hill artists and bohemia exactly? I’ve been hearing variations on this story since the mid-90s.