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Jon Talton

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

February 19, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Seattle’s downtown boom

Seattle has more residential units under construction downtown than any other U.S. metropolitan area other than Houston. This includes 6,000 apartments, one-third of all under construction in the Puget Sound region. Population is growing faster than the city as a whole, increasing 24 percent since 2000 vs. 10 percent for the city. Downtown also enjoyed the strongest improvement among employment centers in the region with a 7 percent year-over-year increase in jobs. These are among the findings presented at last week’s 2013 State of Downtown Economic Forum of the Downtown Seattle Association.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but we must continue to develop an environment which attracts and nurtures this growth,” said association President and CEO Kate Joncas. “We need to ensure that downtown is family friendly, which includes developing a downtown public school and rezoning South Lake Union to support the kind of density that will attract families… We have an obligation to ensure that we’re taking a smart approach to our advantages over suburban areas – steps like improving the pedestrian experience, preserving transit and making downtown Seattle the region’s preferred destination to live, work, shop and play.  These are top priorities.”

A prime mover of the activity is Amazon.com, which, along with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Real Estate, has created a trend-setting urban headquarters campus in South Lake Union and is set to build the first of three skyscrapers in the Denny Triangle. But corporate and developer interest goes deeper. For example, R.C. Hedreen is preparing a massive two-tower project on the site of the Greyhound bus station. The downturn-delayed Fifth and Columbia Tower is on again; it would be the tallest building erected here in 20 years. One wonders if the city is adequately protecting the views of the iconic Space Needle.

Many center cities are among the winners in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Companies are moving offices from suburban office parks to downtowns. Young, high-skilled workers have a preference for the convenience, energy and walkability of the core. Some empty-nest boomers want to retire in vibrant central cities instead of Sun City-like sprawl. Downtowns are leaders in sustainability, efficient clustering of assets and transit. Any metro area that wants to be competitive in the 21st century will have to offer the choice of a successful downtown. Seattle is fortunate to have a strong downtown that’s getting stronger.

Downtown is never done. “Street civility” is an issue if we want to keep attracting tourism. Downtown is the ultimate public space, is full of social services and essentially warehouses many of the homeless who are zoned out of suburbia (although given demographic trends of the past half century, most are probably from suburbia). The future of the seaport is needlessly iffy. Downtown has lost many of its unique local shops and other businesses since the Great Recession. How the development of Sodo and the waterfront progresses will be of prime importance. But the report card for now shows a remarkable comeback from the bust and the loss of Washington Mutual.

And Don’t Miss:  Japanese growth in the wake of the 1990 economic crisis || Brad DeLong

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Song of sequester

Artificial instrument

Will play recession

 
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Comments | More in Sustainability, Urban issues | Topics: Downtown Seattle Association, R.C. Hedreen, Vulcan

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