Center City Initiative
Center City Initiative summary
Downtown Seattle has a lot going for it: great parks and public spaces, a wide range of compelling arts and entertainment options, great restaurants featuring cuisine from around the world, retail choices that feature global brands and the best of our own home grown businesses. We can trace our early history downtown and the breadth of our city's diversity is on full display every day. It is our economic engine with 41 percent of Seattle's jobs and generating 61 percent of our tax revenue. It is also a collection of great neighborhoods. Right now, nearly 40,000 people call the downtown neighborhoods home. That will double by 2030.
By many measures, downtown Seattle is thriving. Jobs and construction are rebounding, with Seattle in the top five nationally for job growth. Tourism is also up - overnight stays in Seattle increased 3.6 percent in 2011, and the Port set a record for cruise ship boardings. Travelers to the city and county spent $5.9 billion while visiting the city and county, an increase of 6.6 percent. The taxes they paid also went up 6.6 percent.
That's the good news. There are also challenges. We have a significant homeless population in downtown, without sufficient access to shelter or restrooms. Individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues may remain out of reach of treatment. While enforcement reduces open air drug dealing, elimination has proven elusive. Visitors and residents report that some of our public gathering places can feel unclean, intimidating or unsafe.
We are committed to working with the community to address these challenges. On many items we are acting immediately. We have added funds to the city budget for cleaning, infrastructure improvements, and enhanced social services. Our police are employing new tactics to address behavior that is illegal. We also must acknowledge that there are differing opinions on the best way to deal with street behavior that may be unpleasant or feel threatening, but is not illegal. Effective solutions require that people with differing perspectives work together to ensure that our downtown is a thriving, safe place for all of us.
That is the focus of the Center City Initiative. We are working with residents, businesses, service providers, and government agencies on specific actions that help make downtown streets safe and inviting. This agenda is rooted in our efforts to build shared prosperity and achieve racial and social justice in Seattle. We are focusing on issues that they tell us are important in Belltown, the Downtown core, Pioneer Square, and Chinatown/International District/Little Saigon.
Center City Initiative Goals
The Center City Initiative's specific goals are to:
- Create a street environment where all people feel safe
- Sustain a vibrant and inviting public realm
- Support thriving business and residential neighborhoods downtown
- Provide outreach, health and human services to people in need
- Provide many attractive options for traveling around downtown
We will do this by ensuring:
- The community's needs are met in a just and equitable manner
- City, community, business and agency partners are accountable for actively working together to deliver lasting solutions
- Existing policies, programs and standards are reassessed and revised to accomplish desired outcomes
- Approaches are cost effective and sustainable
Center City Initiative Structure
Earlier this year, the Evans School of Public Affairs led two off-site Center City Initiative work group roundtables that included the Mayor's Office, Council staff, key City departments, and external agencies such as Metro Transit, the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and Washington State Department of Corrections. This high level inter-agency group now meets every other week as one of Mayor McGinn's regular sub-cabinets. It is led by the Mayor's Director of Policy and Operations. The sub-cabinet is a mechanism to hold agencies accountable for performance, and a forum to discuss emerging issues and to brainstorm solutions. Each of the four Center City Initiative neighborhoods has a project manager directing interdepartmental teams that work with neighborhood stakeholders to problem solve and advance neighborhood work plans. You can review those plans here:
The Center City Initiative Plan
The Center City Initiative is a long term commitment to address challenges facing downtown. It includes a wide range of specific actionable items. The list will evolve over time to address new challenges and as we identify more effective solutions to address existing and emerging challenges. The Mayor has made each of these areas a priority in the 2013/2014 budget which the City Council is now reviewing. The current Center City Initiative Plan is focused on five areas:
- Improving Public Safety
- Addressing Civility and Street Disorder
- Providing Vital Services
- Creating Great Public Places
- Expanding Cleaning Services
Improving Public Safety
On June 20th Captain Dermody, commander of the West Precinct, instituted directed patrols, where officers use their proactive time to target hotspots where known criminal activity is occurring. Since June we have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of 911 calls at peak call times within the four Center City areas. The West Precinct analyzes data on an ongoing basis to track the movement of hot spots throughout downtown and are adjusting their patrols accordingly. Data-driven Directed Patrols are now occurring city-wide in all five precincts.
Addressing drug dealing
SPD and other partners continue to address drug dealing and open drug use downtown. In May 2012, officers began seeing “wafer” type crack cocaine being sold on the street. It was similar to the type sold by a sophisticated Honduran drug ring which was dismantled in 2009. SPD and federal partners, with support from the King County Prosecutor's Office and the US Attorney's office, conducted a “buy and slide” operation that lasted several weeks. Nearly two dozen suspects were arrested and three search warrants served at locations in Seattle and north of Seattle. SPD and the Downtown Seattle Association received immediate feedback from the business community on the reduction in open-air drug dealing. This operation followed one other earlier in the year which focused on the Pike/Pine corridor.
Hiring new police officers
The 2013-2014 Proposed Budget includes funding to allow SPD to hire 10 additional police officers. These additional positions will allow SPD to continue meeting or exceeding the outcome objectives defined in the Neighborhood Policing Plan (NPP), and will relieve pressure on overtime use resulting from increased emphasis patrols that were activated in 2012.
Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion
Our Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) partnership diverts low level offenders who commit crimes due to substance abuse or mental health challenges to treatment and services rather than incarceration. It is currently being piloted in Belltown. Based on a successful program developed in the United Kingdom, low-level drug offenders are diverted to community-based treatment and support services rather than prosecution. This reduces pressure on our court system and helps repeat offenders break the cycle of addiction and poverty through access to housing and other supportive services. LEAD partners include the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, the King County Sheriff's Office, the Washington Department of Corrections, The Defender Association, the ACLU, and the Belltown LEAD Advisory Board.
Addressing Civility and Street Disorder
It is important that people feel safe and welcome on our streets. That feeling of safety is being compromised in some areas of downtown by behavior that, while not illegal, can be unpleasant or feel threatening. We are working with a range of stakeholders, from the service provider community to downtown businesses, to identify effective strategies to improve civility and address street disorder. The Center City Initiative team has had preliminary conversations with downtown business groups, neighborhood stakeholders and the service provider community with the intent to bring these groups together to work collaboratively on issues relating to civility and street disorder. The Mayor's Office is organizing the first “Roundtable” meeting in late October. It will include a broad range of voices and interested parties to identify effective ways of addressing various aspects of street disorder.
Crisis Intervention Training
Our Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) works to intervene when police officers encounter individuals in mental health crisis, deescalating the interaction with police and connecting people in crisis with mental health services. As part of the 20/20 initiative, we are expanding CIT training to every front line officer and making it a required training for all new officers.
Police-Services Partnership on Engagement and Outreach
Stakeholders identified a need for more strategic outreach to connect people in need with services. They looked at best practices around the country, including San Diego's Homeless Outreach Teams, to craft a new outreach effort for Seattle. SPD is partnering with our Human Services Department to help officers connect persons in need on the street with human services and housing providers. SPD officers will work directly with caseworkers and service providers to understand the root causes of disruptive behavior by specific individuals downtown, and address those issues directly. Solutions can be as simple as connecting someone who habitually leaves their belongings on the sidewalk with a place to store belongings during the day. The Mayor's proposed budget will expand this work by funding a new Outreach and Engagement Team in SPD to offer access to services and interventions for people in mental health crisis and other at-risk populations downtown. This team will include a mental health professional co-funded by the Union Gospel Mission and the Metropolitan Improvement District. SPD will receive $150,000 annually to provide officers for the Outreach and Engagement Team. HSD will receive $133,000 in funding to hire formerly homeless individuals as peer-to-peer liaisons. These complement existing investments made by the Downtown Seattle Association.
Providing Vital Services
Expanding support for homeless families
The 2013-2014 Proposed Budget expands funding to assist homeless families with children through a national best practices service model that incorporates expanded outreach and engagement, coordinated entry and assessment, family reconciliation, diversion and progressive engagement models to rapidly move families from homelessness to housing. The collection of services provided in the 2013-2014 Proposed Budget increases the City's funding commitment to these services by $620,000.
One of the goals of the Center City Initiative is to work with low-income and supported housing providers to develop strategies to improve public safety and site security around the affordable housing they own or manage. We are significantly increasing the frequency of inspections, and are strengthening relationships between housing providers, police, neighbors and social service providers in order to improve public safety in and around these properties. Housing providers are busy exploring ways to improve the safety and security at their sites. Some of the strategies they're looking at include upgrading exterior lighting, adding surveillance cameras, and hiring additional evening or security staff.
Supporting our youth to protect public safety
Protecting public safety means more than just hiring more police officers. We have to offer programs and services that get our young people engaged in positive activities and off the streets. The 2013-2014 Proposed Budget expands hours at Yesler Community Center (and at six other community centers), and adds $1.68 million to expand the City's successful Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) to serve 450 more at-risk youth.
Creating Great Public Spaces
Third Avenue corridor upgrades
Between now and early 2013, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will be working with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to develop a continuation of DPD's 2008 Third Avenue Urban Design Plan with participation from Metro, the Department of Neighborhoods, and others. SDOT plans to do additional design on the segment between University and Stewart streets, and the project team will be looking to Center City stakeholders and other interests for guidance. The resulting design is expected to serve as a launching point for several funded capital projects that will all help improve the Third Ave corridor streetscape:
- The Mayor's proposed budget invests $1 million in important capital upgrades to Third Avenue in downtown, including a major sidewalk expansion and enhancement near Macy's department store, upgrading all remaining pedestrian signals to countdown signals, and re-marking all faded crosswalks in the corridor.
- King County Metro was awarded $7.5 million in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants to add bus ticket vending machines, lighting, RapidRide (bus rapid transit) branding, pedestrian improvements, other upgrades to 21 bus stops, and extension of bus-only travel lane restrictions on Third Avenue north to Denny Way. The City of Seattle is a partner in the grant and is working with Metro to define a series of improvements planned for Third Avenue between Denny Way and Jackson Street.
The City of Seattle faces ongoing budget challenges that impact our ability to provide high quality services across the city. But, rather than raising taxes, we are looking at new and innovative ways to support services and amenities that meet the needs of the community. An approach that has enjoyed great success in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities across the country has private companies providing bus shelters, street furniture and other services in exchange for being able to sell a limited amount of advertising on those structures. To better understand what the potential benefits might be if Seattle were to permit some advertising in specific commercial districts, we will be issuing a Request for Information (RFI) this fall. The RFI asks companies what enhancements they could make to our streets, sidewalks and public places in exchange for the ability to put advertising on things like information kiosks, and bus shelters.
Capital improvements into streetscapes & transportation:
We are moving forward on connecting the South Lake Union Streetcar with the First Hill Streetcar. In September the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) selected Nelson\Nygaard to move forward with planning work on the City Center Connector, a high-performance high-capacity transit corridor identified in Seattle's Transit Master Plan recently adopted by the City Council. This work is funded by a $900,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration and is matched by $300,000 in SDOT funds. The current Seattle Transit Master Plan shows that a rail system on this corridor could generate approximately 10,000 new transit riders in Seattle Center City by 2030. The City and Nelson\Nygaard plan to begin public outreach in October. A final draft plan for the best transit technology and street pathway through the Center City will be completed by the end of 2013.
Downtown Mobility Plan
The Mayor's budget funds a $350,000 downtown mobility study, which will be conducted in partnership with the Downtown Seattle Association. It will look at how all modes of transportation interact with each other throughout the downtown. It includes $150,000 to study a downtown cycle track network that will build off the 7th Avenue cycle track Amazon will be constructing.
Parks activation including opening the community center in Belltown
In September the new Belltown Community Center opened at 415 Bell Street. The center features many of the priorities identified by the community: a small conference room, a space for Seattle Police to use, a children's play area, and an opening to the alley for use in warm weather. It's a space where Belltown residents can get to know neighbors, hold community meetings, take martial arts classes and adult programs, have dances and other evening events, and create a community board to work with the center staff.
Expanding Cleaning Services
Additional cleaning in the Center City
We have executed contracts this year to increase sidewalk powerwashing and garbage pickup in key corridors downtown and we have included funding in the budget over the next two years for that higher level of service. We are also working with the MID to further enhance cleaning services.
Clear Alleys in the Chinatown International District
Next year the City will be expanding the popular Clear Alleys program to the Chinatown International District. Clear Alleys is currently only in place in downtown, Pioneer Square and Belltown, where it has been shown to:
- Create cleaner, safer business districts
- Reduce the incidence of uncivil behaviors and illegal activities in alleys
- Increase the attractiveness of alleys for pedestrian use
- Allow better alley access for business services like deliveries