After moving from St. Louis, Anne McCullough’s walks in her new, surprisingly leafy neighborhood are filled with reminders of what First Hill can be.
“There’s a lot of opportunities and I can’t help but think about the work that I do when I walk through the neighborhood,” McCullough tells CHS.
The new executive director of the First Hill Improvement Association is also focused on what First Hill is today.
First Hill has about one-third the residential population of Capitol Hill but its density is off the charts — only Belltown has squeezed more residents into a smaller space in Seattle.
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“Of the 10,000 First Hill residents, only one person lives in a single-family home,” the FHIA noted in a recent annual report. “The remaining 9,999 of us all live conveniently stacked next to and on top of each other in the densest residential neighborhood in Washington State.”
McCullough’s mission, as she puts it, is “helping people build places that they want to live.” Though it is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, First Hill is about present an even larger challenge to McCullough’s personal mission. Over the next four years, some 24 new developments are set to dig in across the neighborhood, creating enough housing to increase First Hill’s population by 70%, McCullough said.
And they won’t all be “luxury high rises” like the one where Whole Foods now resides at the base of a 17-story apartment tower at the Broadway border of First Hill and Capitol Hill.
Nonprofit developers Bellwether Housing and Plymouth Housing Group are planning a major new affordable housing project on surplus Sound Transit land at Madison and Boylston — right next to that new Whole Foods. The project will be “the largest building constructed by any affordable housing provider in Seattle, with 12 to 15 floors of housing over a floor of retail, service, and community space.”
McCullough’s work for the FHIA also includes economic vitality and sustainability in the neighborhood. She says there is lots of interest in the new commercial spaces being created in the neighborhood — 14 of the 24 development projects will include new retail and restaurant space.
The neighborhood’s transportation is vital for both residents and small businesses. FHIA has been focusing its efforts on advocacy around bus rapid transit on Madison — delayed but aiming for a 2020 start of construction — and the paused Center City Connector Streetcar project.
2019 will also bring progress on a major FHIA-led $1 million initiative to upgrade First Hill Park — a key drive in a neighborhood packed with construction and with land too expensive for the development of new parks.
Another important 2019 initiative will be putting funding to use from the Convention Center expansion’s community benefits package for planning an overhaul of Terry Ave, a key First Hill street home to both the Frye Art Museum and the St. James Cathedral. The hope, McCullough says, is to make the street more walkable and a safer place for everybody including bikers.
One big change for McCullough from her neighborhood work in St. Louis is the presence of the many hospitals and health service providers on First Hill. The big institutions have also turned to the FHIA to help sort out issues and improve the neighborhood. McCullough said FHIA’s advocacy is also helping to shape some of the efforts of those larger entities. One key project is the county’s plan to put the Harborview Hall building to use as a shelter. McCullough said her focus on clean, healthy, and safe First Hill includes advocacy to expand the Harborview Hall vision to include “enhanced shelter” offering fewer barriers to housing, room for pets, and important services like storage.
FHIA has also joined with the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce/Broadway Business Improvement Area in advocating for funding for homeless outreach workers.
Despite the differences between First Hill and the neighborhood she previously worked to represent in St. Louis, McCullough said the desires for those working and living in the neighborhoods are the same.
“The passion that people have here isn’t different to what I experienced in Cherokee Station,” she said. “People want to be involved.”
One of McCullough’s favorite places to visit in her new neighborhood is the happy hour at Vito’s she says. She also enjoys visiting the newly opened Yesler Terrace Park. The new park is full of energy and, McCullough says, shows the signs of life of a thriving area of the city — with more residents to come.
“It’s a growing population,” she said. “If you go to Yesler Terrace Park, you can’t help but notice all the kids.”
The First Hill Improvement Association meets regularly and is seeking participants for its four committees — 1) Urban Design and Public Space, 2) Clean, Healthy, Safe, 3) Transportation, and, 4) Membership and Outreach. It is supported by membership fees which range from $25 for individuals and families to $500 a year for large residential buildings. Major funding also comes from Swedish, Virginia Mason, and Harborview. You can learn more at firsthill.org.