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From Melrose to 19th, Capitol Hill Chamber launches campaign to create $1.6 million Business Improvement Area

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.”


capitol-hill-bia-overview-r6That complexity should have its rewards.

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.

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21 thoughts on “From Melrose to 19th, Capitol Hill Chamber launches campaign to create $1.6 million Business Improvement Area

  1. How much money is cap hill gonna demand from its small biz before it realizes that it might be time to cut taxes for these biz. The exact reason why these small biz are leaving Cap hill is bc rent is too damn high and there is so little return.

    • I’m looking to move my company to a more business friendly state. There is no way things could be turned around during my lifetime.

  2. I can understand why some property owners object to paying for services (street cleaning, beautification, etc) that the City should be doing, but I’m afraid that’s a pipe dream that isn’t going to happen. SDOT and other agencies turn a blind eye to things which make parts of our neighborhood trashy (graffiti, illegal postering, overflowing dumpsters etc.). Sure, they sometimes respond when someone takes the time to make a specific complaint, but such efforts make only a small dent in the overall problem.

    Regarding who will have to pay a fee for the expanded BIA, I notice that the Chamber’s map states that owners of multifamily properties will be included. Is this really true? Does this mean that all the many apartment owners will have to pay up?

  3. Make the neighborhood even more expensive, typical Seattle “solution”. News flash: property tax is already sky high and owners pass it on to tenants and customers.

  4. Another point: Property values skyrocketed across Seattle over the last 20 years along with the population. Presumably property tax and sales tax revenue also skyrocketed. So where the hell are the additional tax revenue going?

  5. I dont need a “basic civics lesson” to understand the city should be providing these services through existing tax revenue. And though the BIA will stretch to include 19th Avenue East properties, it will provide very little benefit to that neighborhood, which doesnt suffer the same problems as other parts of Capitol Hill. And there is only so many expenses you can pass along to tenants, who already hard pressed to pay lofty rents while growing their businesses.

  6. As a business who pays this quarterly, it’s not much, 02% on gross revenue and an annual max of $3,500 (at least thus far). It’s a nuisance because it’s yet another form, a paper one, that you have to fill out, process, cut a check, mail-in, and so forth. I commend Sierra for improving the transparency of how this money is spent since she was hired. I still hate paying for it and don’t really see and feel the benefit, but then again if it wasn’t there I might miss it. But it is another tax, another “privilege” of doing business in the area.

    • Thanks Scott! In January 2016 we launched an electronic newsletter to our current business rate payers so please email me if you are not receiving it. Just a few data points on what our 7 day a week cleaning services did on Broadway in 2016 – 1,820 bags of garbage, 145 bags of recycling, 554 biohazard incidents cleaned up, 300 sharps collected, 323 overflowing public cans addressed, 838 graffiti tags removed, and 36 bulky items picked up. In addition, we lit trees from Nov – Mar, hosted two BIA events, and brought Santa to Broadway. If there are things we can do better, please just let us know!

    • @Newsletters – a Chamber newsletter has been in place for quite some time. However, we launched a Broadway BIA newsletter for our current ratepayers last year. Two different newsletters, two different audiences, same goal – increase information and engagement of our members and/or ratepayers.

  7. Before local businesses and building owners support this new tax, we need to see an actual budget, hear specifics, and be provided with a way to analyze the results and kill the BIA if they aren’t materializing. Let’s also hear from the businesses on Capitol Hill already paying into the BIA, and hear if they think it is worthwhile. (I”m actually surprised this article didn’t talk to them, it’s more of a press release).

    I want to know what the vague things being proposed actually mean – “economic development/ business development”? This is one the best neighborhoods to do business in on the West Coast. What exactly is going to happen here? I don’t know many businesses here who need consulting. “Cleaning”? Etc, etc….we need more specifics. “Events and marketing” – these are already done by the Block Party, Pride events, etc. Why should we pay more for this?

    We also need to know what other new taxes are coming. The Mayor has proposed a head tax to support the Office of Labor Standards, and then pulled it back. Will that return? There is talk of a new tax to fund the SPD. When and how much? And if that’s coming, why does the BIA need to fund the SPD? There is a LID coming to fund the waterfront. Will Capitol Hill businesses have to pay for that too? And there is talk of a new Citywide income tax.

    We need accountability from our local government, and we definitely need any new pseudo governmental body whose leadership has taxing authority to be accountable to the people proving it’s funding. I want specifics on how that accountability works.

    Let’s make sure we are getting a community organization, not a developer funded body with no accountability to the community paid for by small businesses (the building owners won’t pay this, their tenants will).

    • +1

      The “basic civics lesson” Sierra Hansen refers to does not include the pseudo governments created by intentionally vague special taxing districts.

      How is the objective of “advocating for affordable housing” going to work when housing costs are going to be driven up by increased property taxes on multifamily buildings?

    • It’s my understanding that when the city of Seattle stopped cleaning the streets and making things “look nice”, many of these activities were picked up by individual business owners that formed Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). I believe BIAs are fairly unique to Seattle; meaning, not every city have BIAs.

      The oldest BIA in the city is Pioneer Square. Even though it doesn’t look like it, BIAs actually do a lot more for their areas than it seems in terms of safety, cleanliness and marketing.

      The biggest thing a BIA does is stop things from happening that they know the community doesn’t want; so in this way, it can be a thankless job because you are providing something that when done well shouldn’t be seen.

      A lot of this work is behind the scenes in planning, which basically means conversations. The conversation to expand the BIA to Pike Pine is going on now for almost 10 years, possibly more. The conversations Michael Wells had with the city, Sound Transit, and the CH community made big changes in design plans that no one will ever see BECAUSE they didn’t happen.

      Business owners typically don’t get BIAs and government. Business owners tend to sell things, food, beer, a book. Government and BIAs don’t sell things. They provide services, services that when they are done well, you don’t see them.

      The good thing is that being part of a BIA gives business owners more control over things happening in their neighborhoods but the downside is you have to be involved, which means going to meetings for hours on end that it seems like all you do is talk and talk and talk (because everyone has to be heard) until some action is taken.

      It seems CHCC has gotten better at showing people what they do, but not enough. I think the get people onboard you really have to paint a clear picture for them of what the CH BIA does, which is what Meinert above is asking for.

    • @Staying Anon – BIA’s are common tools used throughout the country, so not unique to Seattle at all. Engagement is critical, and our current Chamber board has voices from a wide spectrum of businesses, residents, housing, commercial, community organizations and faith-based organizations. All voices are important, and effective when they are used. The BIA effort has been underway for some time, starting first as a community-led strategic plan ( which lead to a proposed expanded BIA in Capitol Hill. Anyone who wants to find out more can visit the website listed above or reach out via email to discuss benefits and potential impacts. Thanks for engaging.

  8. I encourage any and all on this thread to get in touch with me and find out more about the BIA proposal. As Justin stated, this is the outcome of many years of engagement with stakeholders throughout the neighborhood, a very clear set of benefits that will provide direct, on the ground benefits to the range of stakeholders, such as businesses, visitor and residents. My email address is and as any of our 200+ members and 200+ BIA ratepayers can attest, I am available pretty much 24/7 to help advocate for a safer, robust, diverse neighborhood.

  9. It is hard to attract new businesses when the rent is so damn high. People can say that it is taxes or whatever, but there is also the profit margin from the landowners that needs to be taken into account.

    The depressed businesses around here stem from the increase in both business and housing rent increases. The housing increases means that consumers have less to spend on product, and the business rent increases means that they need more reliable consumers to make a profit.

  10. That big donut in between 12th and 15th looks awfully suspicious. How would multifamily properties in that area not benefit from improvements made on all of the blocks surrounding them? Why would they get a free pass on this tax increase?

    Also, why include a stretch on 19th ave while the big developments on Madison (Central Co-op, Trader Joe’s, Lawrence Lofts) are left out? 16th Ave would have one side of the street with a condo building and Jewish Family Services in the district, while Central Co-op would be outside of the district. There had better be a very good explanation for that.

    • @Dave, BIA’s are primarily focused on providing benefits and services in commercial areas. The two “donut holes” that you have pointed out are primarily residential in nature thus we have excluded them. The other seven areas from Melrose to the small portion of 19th do have significant commercial activities, and zoning, thus we tried to develop a plan that would provide services to these area through extensive stakeholder outreach. These lines were drawn based on that work, and I would be happy to discuss more with you want to schedule coffee. I can be reached at Sierra @

  11. Even Capitol Hill is susceptible to gerrymandering.

    I’d urger the Chamber to review their own membership map ( to notice the district boundaries. I think they’ll find the apex of the hill is on 19th, not 15th. And why, oh why, exclude our culturally significant single family homes in the center, middle, and outer blocks? Surely they’ll continue participating in the neighborhood economy, maybe even more than “renters”…

    • Good question @milopalmer. The commercial portion of 19th is included to ensure we can represent the primary business districts in Capitol Hill, and not just the historic and newer ones such as Broadway and 15th Ave. We have focused on commercial areas or areas with a strong commercial presence to ensure we are complying with those regulations. Also, residential properties with less than four units are exempt from BIA assessment. Please reach out if you have any questions and I will do my best to respond. Sierra @