Mayor Ed Murray is rolling out his tried-and-true policy strategy in an effort to help small businesses weather Seattle’s affordability crisis: a 15-member committee tasked with addressing the rising cost of commercial space.
The group of business owners, developers, and property owners has been directed to “emphasize incentive-based solutions,” but Murray said he was not ruling out commercial rent control.
“Everything can be on the table,” Murray said during the Thursday announcement at Hing Hay Coworks in the International District. “I don’t believe there will be one answer.”
District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant has been calling for regulating commercial rents since she announced her small business plan in October alongside Capitol Hill owners. City officials believe the state ban on rent control may only apply to residential properties.
Recommendations from the committee are to focus on keeping existing small businesses open and paving the way for new ones:
The group will consider a broad range of solutions to commercial affordability, including incentivizing the construction of smaller commercial spaces, further activation of public spaces to the benefit of food trucks and other small businesses, and inclusion of affordable commercial storefronts in more affordable housing projects.
The Commercial Affordability Advisory Committee includes Melrose Market and Chophouse Row developer Liz Dunn. The Capitol Hill developer has been praised for her buildings that include small spaces for small businesses — an issue Murray said the affordability committee will need to address.
“Often the spaces that are being developed are bigger than what small businesses need,” he said.
Murray was hesitant to discuss solutions he wanted to see implemented, but said zoning and permitting reforms could be part of the equation. The committee will consider affordability concerns for all commercial uses, including retail, restaurant, industrial, office, and arts and culture.
City officials did not have any data on hand Thursday to show how much Seattle rents have risen for commercial spaces in recent years.
As the $15 minimum wage debate proved, determining what constitutes a small business will be no simple task. Brian Surratt, director of the Office of Economic Development, said there was no hard line going into the process. The committee will submit its recommendations to the Mayor in September.