New leader on First Hill sees neighborhood’s opportunities as it readies for population boom

Anne McCullough is the new director at the First Hill Improvement Association

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.

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13 thoughts on “New leader on First Hill sees neighborhood’s opportunities as it readies for population boom

  1. I hope that the proposed homeless shelter at Harborview Hall will include well-funded addiction (drugs, alcohol) and mental health services. Otherwise, such places are just a revolving door back to the streets.

  2. There are already several low income projects within a couple blocks of the Madison and Boylston project. That area of First Hill will now be the most densely populated low income housing area in all of Seattle. In addition, there’s a drug rehab facility in the middle of all these projects. The neighborhood schools are overrun with troubled kids from low income families overwhelming teachers and the neighborhood is becoming dirty and unsafe. The city, county and state should do a better job of spreading out these services. There’s no argument that these services are needed, but they shouldn’t be concentrated in a single location.

    • Exactly what “troubled” schools are you referring to? I can’t think of any public school on First Hill…..only private schools (O’Dea, Northwest School) which are hardly populated by kids from low-income families.

  3. Why is there no direct bus service from First Hill to SLU? At rush times the #64 goes from SLU to First Hill, but only in that direction. We are talking about one of the densest residential areas and one of the densest employment areas that are only 1 mile apart (but a 300ft climb.)

    So basically anyone who has a job in SLU has no direct transit option from First Hill. I guess eventually the CCC would accomplish this in a roundabout kind of way (if it is ever built.) But is it that hard to just put a bus line on Boren?

      • Not everyone is physically capable of biking on a 300 ft rise in heavy traffic. But I’m all for bike infastructure for those who can.

      • My point is that many neighborhood have a 1 seat direct bus to SLU. Cap Hill, LQA, Eastlake, Westlake, Fremont, U District, Green Lake, Ravenna, Maple Leaf, Phinney Ridge, Greenwood… and even Ballard and W. Seattle. So if you live in these priciest neighborhoods you are set.

        It seems strange that 1st Hill and and many other comparatively affordable neighborhoods lack direct bus routes to the densest employment area of the city. Not everyone who works there is in tech making 6 figures. Although, to be fair, a high proportion are and can afford the pricier neighborhoods I guess.

      • Like clockwork, here’s the bike person saying that biking is an option for everyone, no matter how poor, disabled or just plain not wanting to ride up steep hills.

        Not everyone has your privileges.

      • The 63/64 go *from* SLU *to* First Hill in the morning and they only go the opposite way in the evening, exactly the opposite of what FH resident SLU workers need. There are a few routes from downtown or Broadway to SLU, but including the walk and wait time from FH, they offer no time advantage over walking.

        For those not inclined to risk wiping out on a wet/icy Boren Ave sidewalk, a surprisingly large amount of SLU/Westlake workers commute via Uber and Lyft. It makes our horrible traffic even worse, but at least it’s an option.

      • Strange people need to be snarky.

        Likee I said in the initial post… the 64 goes only in 1 direction and only during rush. It is always the wrong direction if you are going from First Hill to SLU during normal working hours. It works if you live in SLU and work on First Hill, but does not run in the opposite direction.

        Those lines do not run from First Hill to SLU in the AM, nor SLU to First Hill in the PM… or either way the rest of the time. It would be great if they did- which is all I mentioned in my original post, before people started criticizing for not biking or walking- which are great options for a lot of people, just not my partner.

  4. On November 8 St. James Cathedral honored the 209 people who died on our streets with a Requiem Mass for the Homeless. (This compares to 127 the previous year.) How many of those folks, between the ages of 21 and 81, would still be with us if they had mental health services? Our state is one of the lowest in the nation for funding such programs, yet we have one of the highest per capita incomes. Hopefully there will be residents of First Hill who will be a voice for these voiceless so that next year there will be fewer names (or preferably none!) on the program listing our deceased neighbors. Yes, these are our neighbors!

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