CHBA: After neighborhood chamber implosion, Seattle business group forms Capitol Hill Business Alliance

The GSBA’s Louise Chernin, center, has been in the mix around Capitol Hill businesses for decades

Following through on plans formed with the summer financial implosion of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, a major Seattle organization has announced the formation of the Capitol Hill Business Alliance, “dedicated to serving this vital neighborhood.”

“It’s the launch of a new era of support for the Capitol Hill business community,” the Greater Seattle Business Association announcement of the new effort sent to former chamber members reads.

In May, CHS reported on the sudden closure of the Capitol Hill chamber as the nonprofit representing hundreds of neighborhood businesses cited financial difficulties for bringing an end to its advocacy and marketing efforts. In July, CHS took a deeper look at what brought down the chamber and found a failed attempt to create an expanded “Business Improvement Area” had sapped much of the remaining energy and resources of the group, plus more details of the downward trend in city funding, legal issues, and the loss of key people including director Egan Orion who left after four months to launch a City Council campaign. Continue reading

The Capitol Hill chamber — and with it an ambitious push for a neighborhood-wide business improvement area — is dead. What went wrong?

The chamber’s annual Hilloween festival is likely to be picked up and continued by the new guard.

When the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce shuttered in June, board members chalked its demise up to a confluence of issues and “unanticipated developments.”

A couple of “key” board members left, chamber board co-chairs Joey Burgess, and Tracy Taylor wrote in a letter at the end of May. Plus: Egan Orion, the recently appointed executive director of the chamber, decided to run for City Council, they wrote, and “a reduction of funds” from the Office of Economic Development “imposed insurmountable obstacles to operating as a true Chamber model.”

Now, two months after the announcement, interviews with former board members and others reveal a fuller picture of what happened to the nonprofit representing the neighborhood’s business community— and what is to come. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to shut down as plans for new effort to represent neighborhood business community takes shape

The chamber’s Stars on Broadway effort honored neighborhood nonprofits with holiday stars on the Capitol Hill Station construction wall

Back in the old days of the mid-2000s, the chamber called this old house (no longer) at 10th and Thomas home (Image: CHS)

The Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce’s ambitious but thus far unsuccessful effort centered around creating an expanded business organization with the power to assess properties from I-5 to 23rd Ave will end in 2019. The nonprofit organization representing the neighborhood’s business community is suspending operations effective June 2nd, the board announced Thursday.

But a larger organization with a strong track record of effective — and socially progressive — pro-business advocacy is ready to fill the gap.

Louise Chernin, executive director of the Capitol Hill-headquartered Greater Seattle Business Association, tells CHS her organization hopes to step forward to create a new effort under the GSBA wing dedicated to the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s a continuation, she says, of work already underway at the GSBA.

“They’ve called us in the last two years because they weren’t getting services,” Chernin said about Capitol Hill shops and restaurants who have been looking for more support in their issues with Seattle City Hall and in Olympia. “I think we’re just going to continue doing what we do but we’ll just be more open about it. We respected the chamber, we wanted them to succeed. We’re hoping this new version, they will succeed.” Continue reading

New leader, renewed small business focus for Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce

Orion rallying the troops before a neighborhood clean-up a few years back in Cal Anderson Park

It is the kind of story parents trot out to destroy a child with purely sweet and terrible awkwardness: This is where you were conceived. For Egan Orion, the new executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, his mother’s point of conception in an apartment above Broadway is part of his life’s connection and love for the street and the neighborhood.

“My family would come to Capitol Hill during the ’80s to shop at the REI store just across the street from here, and I personally become a Capitol Hill regular in the early ’90s when I was young and newly out and the Hill was the center of gay life in Seattle,” Orion said Friday night during the announcement of his hiring at the chamber’s annual State of the Hill event.

But times change, “And in times of drastic change—the kind we’ve been through these past few years — it’s not always straight-forward for business-owners, residents, and community leaders to get a good grasp on what’s happening, and even harder to figure out what comes next,” Orion said Friday night.

Some of what comes next is already in motion. Continue reading

As full-Hill expansion efforts push forward, PrideFest head tabbed to lead Broadway ‘Business Improvement’

As it works to convince property owners to expand its presence and services across Capitol Hill, the Broadway Business Improvement Area and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce are turning to the organizer credited with rescuing last year’s Pride street festival to manage the day to day effort around clean streets, public safety, and business growth services.

Egan Orion of One Degree Events and PrideFest has been hired as the new administrator of the Broadway BIA, the chamber announced Tuesday.

The move comes as chamber leaders, business owners, and landlords across the Hill are considering a major expansion of the BIA to encompass areas including Broadway, Pike/Pine, Melrose, as well as 15th and 19th Avenues.  Continue reading

Exit interview: CHS talks with outgoing Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce leader Sierra Hansen

Were you as excited as Sierra Hansen when Capitol Hill Station opened in 2016?

It was only two years ago that the previous executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Michael Wells, stepped down from his position as leader of the Hill’s chief business advocacy group. Now, his replacement, Sierra Hansen  has transitioned out of the role to head up the the planned-for-expansion Broadway Business Improvement Area on a six-month contract. The chamber’s director of external relations Mel Burchett is stepping up to manage the group. CHS sat down with Hansen to talk shop on a variety of Hill-specific issues and what she learned about the neighborhood during her tenure.

Why did you leave your position as executive director to take over the six month BIA contract? It was a natural time for me to step down. Part of the reason I was brought on board was to re-energize our membership services, really bring a strong membership focus back to the chamber, but also to work on the BIA expansion. In the expansion, I think we left it in a pretty strong place. We engaged new stakeholders that really were not as well organized, particularly in the Melrose area. The organization is kind of at this place where they really need to focus solely on the BIA … there was really nobody with the capacity in-house to do that work because they needed somebody to focus on the BIA expansion and Mel [the chamber’s director of external relations],who is continuing to do the membership and some operational stuff, just didn’t have the bandwidth so I proposed to them that I stay on board to manage the contract and it was a win-win for everybody.

I have remained on extremely friendly terms with the Board and with the staff; I mean, I’m managing the contract so clearly I was not run out of town. I continue to have a really strong relationship with them and I’ve told them that if there’s anything I can do to help with their work—now or in the future—to never hesitate to pick up the phone because I have such a love for this neighborhood and the members and I just feel so humbled and honored [to get to] represent this neighborhood in any kind of capacity. I got so many lovely notes when I announced my departure and I truly feel like I was there representative first. Continue reading

Crunch time for effort to expand Capitol Hill Business Improvement Area

Community leaders seeking to expand a Business Improvement Area to advance clean streets, public safety, and business growth across Capitol Hill are looking for a special person to drive creation of the possible $1.6 million program. The candidate needs to be detail oriented and tenacious, able to connect with small business owners and landlords in every nook and cranny of the Hill, and able to track down every single loose end. Sorry, I already have a job.

“People are busy,” says Jeff Peletier, architect at 15th Ave E’s Board and Vellum and spokesperson for the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the efforts to create an expansive Capitol Hill Business Improvement Area. “This economy is insane.”

In these boom times, the job listing for a new campaign manager to wrangle the expansion process is a good sign for those behind the proposed expansion. CHS reported on the February launch of the Hill chamber’s campaign to expand the existing Broadway BIA to encompass Broadway, Pike/Pine, Melrose, as well as 15th and 19th Avenues. The new manager will help drive the day to day to prepare petitions for the City Council as the campaign shifts into an all-out effort to gather signups from 60% of property owners within the proposed boundaries of the expansion. That includes “owners of business property, multi-family residential property, and mixed-use property.” Continue reading

Chamber ramps up campaign for expanded Capitol Hill Business Improvement Area

A campaign to create a $1.6 million program to address clean streets, public safety, and business growth across Capitol Hill’s commercial districts will begin a new phase this week with the first in a series of planned open house sessions to gather support for an expanded Capitol Hill Business Improvement Area and a new, larger charter for the organization behind the campaign, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

Open House – Capitol Hill BIA Expansion

In February, when chamber director Sierra Hansen officially announced the campaign to form a new Business Improvement Area, she said the organization had received commitments from about half of the 60% of 650 commercial property owners needed to move the proposal forward to the City Council for approval.

As the petitions have been circulating, Hansen said much of the past month has been spent following up with those committed owners, gathering official signatures and scheduling meetings with other stakeholders.

“Our list of supporters is strong,” she said, noting it includes Capitol Hill real estate developer Hunters Capital, faith-based organizations, Capitol Hill Housing, and residents.

Hansen declined to say what gains in the percentage of needed signatures the chamber has been able to secure in the early days of the campaign.

Not everyone is buying into it. Morris Groberman, who along with an investment partnership owns Harvard Market, says the current, smaller BIA focused only on Broadway already doesn’t do enough to clean up the neighborhood and keep crimes down — and he says his taxes are high enough already.

“I can only pass so much on to the residents before it hits my bottom line,” he said. Continue reading

‘Two amazing, kick-ass women’ — Developers recognized with Capitol Hill Spirit Award

Adele wasn’t the only award winner hoping to share her praise in recent days.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my neighborhood than at this moment,” Pike/Pine developer Liz Dunn told the crowd as she reflected on the wave of activism in the neighborhood at last week’s State of the Hill event held at Optimism Brewing. Continue reading

Chamber director marks first year with preparations for new Capitol Hill Alliance

Sierra Hansen, one year into the job and ready for big changes (Image: CHS)

Sierra Hansen, one year into the job and ready for big changes (Image: CHS)

On the Wednesday after Election Day, Sierra Hansen hit the one year mark as the executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

Instead of celebrating the career milestone, Hansen spent part of the day mourning the outcome of the election. In the months leading up to Donald Trump’s win, Hansen has been working to transform the chamber and will continue to do so in 2017.

“We’ve exceeded pretty much every fundraising goal we’ve set for ourselves, we’ve exceeded membership, we’ve continued these traditions in the neighborhood, we’ve revitalized … we’ve done so many new and refreshing things, but there are still really important challenges in our neighborhood,” Hansen said.

While Hansen lives in the Alki neighborhood, she previously lived on the Hill and spent more than two decades of her life working, partying, enjoying the food and drink scene, and finding herself as a young bisexual.

“This is still my heart,” Hansen said. Continue reading