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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

June 8, 2010 at 9:20 AM

If City Hall blunders, here’s the sky bridge to nowhere

So let me get this straight: In the worst environment for retailers, particularly department stores, in decades, City Hall wants to add a burden on the Macy’s store that is already, at least by appearances, struggling.

As the Seattle Times’ Emily Heffter reports, the city has jacked up the fee for the sky bridge connected the former Bon Marche to its parking garage from $300 to $31,185 a year, and on a timeline (two years) that implies higher fees will come in the future. Store officials are deciding whether the money is worth it.

I’m all for walkability and New Urbanism, but downtown Seattle is hardly Minneapolis, with miles of warren-like tunnels and sky bridges that keep people off the streets (for good reason, given the Minnesota winter). Instead, downtown is a critical economic and civic asset facing unprecedented competition from the suburbs, particularly Bellevue. It is also caught in a historic retail downturn that hit just as the center city was losing thousands of well-paid headquarters jobs. Macy’s masters in Cincinnati are certainly not pleasantly disposed to downtown stores.

The Macy’s sky bridge is a larger example of an inability of the bureaucracy and their elected bosses to evaluate situations individually in a city of unique places, rather than place one-size-fits-all regulations that are, well, suburban in their character. A smaller example is the elimination of folding signs in Pioneer Square that directed customers to out-of-the-way stores. For those stores, the loss of even a dozen customers a day is a big bit. No reason City Hall should be worried about Pioneer Square, right?

The new outlook of the McGinn administration seems to be the idealization of “neighborhoods,” as if downtown isn’t one and isn’t critical to the entire city and region’s health. It’s part of a broader new vibe that has some worthwhile ambitions, such as light rail and streetcars, but also is perceived by many in the business community as anti-business. If Macy’s ends up closing, pushed along by inattention and hostility at City Hall, nobody in the neighborhoods will win.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Wish there was an app

To keep the market stable

A job beyond Jobs

Comments | More in Downtown and urban issues

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