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Jon Talton

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

October 21, 2013 at 11:29 AM

How downtown came back from recession

On Sunday, I wrote about how the recession hit downtown Seattle, using the lens of Fourth Avenue. Thanks to its existing strength with offices, hotels, retail and attractions such as Pike Place Market, downtown came through those bad times pretty well. The downturn hurt exurbia and much of suburbia much worse than it did successful downtowns. Center cities have been quicker to rebound, and Seattle has received a big boost from Amazon’s new headquarters in South Lake Union. Downtown residential continues to grow, too.

A deeper dig shows that ground still needs to be made up. Data from the Downtown Seattle Association show some of the center city’s losses and rebound from the Great Recession. In 2007, the area held 3,700 street-level retail and service businesses. By 2010, that had fallen to 3,453. This year, it has recovered to 3,655.

The Denny Triangle showed the most bounce, from 337 to 384. Capitol Hill, the International District, Pioneer Square, Uptown and the waterfront all show more businesses in 2013 compared with 2007.

On the other hand, the retail core, West Edge, First Hill and Belltown have yet to recover their 2007 levels. So does South Lake Union, for all its office and residential construction. Retail sales have yet to recover their pre-recession highs, although restaurants and accommodations have surpassed theirs.

Hard work by downtown advocates and leasing agents kept the Pike-Pine corridor as the beating heart of the core. Thus, one of the first urban Target stores opened, along with such as Allsaints and Forever 21. Still, challenges remain and are the focus of a draft set of recommendations from the association.

Downtown employment rose to 201,889 from 2008′s 201,580, a number that included Washington Mutual before its collapse. Some 10,000 jobs were lost in the next two years. Downtown has yet to regain the 2001 number, 207,465.

For some perspective, Seattle’s employment fell from 497,047 in 2008 to 462,180 in 2010. Last year, it was 483,318. Bellevue lost more than 8,400 jobs from peak to trough, landing at 123,022 in 2012, still 5,300 below its 2008 peak. Tacoma is more than 7,100 jobs below its peak in 2007.

From the ground level, I see far more restaurants as data shows that food-service jobs are among the relatively few sectors adding large numbers of positions in this slow recovery. But beloved local shops were lost, such as City Kitchens, Cameras West and Sherman Clay pianos. Even the Borders bookstore was replaced by…a restaurant. Pioneer Square lost Elliott Bay Book Co., but this icon survived and is doing well in Capitol Hill. Pioneer Square kept the Seattle Mystery Bookshop (yes, both, plus Amazon, sell my novels).

Downtown is essential to the region’s success and luckily we came through the recession in fairly good shape, with the loss, alas, of some of the kinds of destinations that make a downtown special.

Center cities across the nation are enjoying a tremendous boost as more people, especially the creative class, want a convenient urban lifestyle — and those who don’t, still want the unique urban experience. Clustering offices and other assets downtown is greener and more efficient.

Downtown is never done, either. That’s one reason why, as I have written, the mayoral candidates need to pay more attention, including to crime.

And Don’t Miss: Alan Greenspan learned nothing from the financial crisis | The Atlantic

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Jamie cut a deal

The criminal probe goes on

Bet a Dimon it

0 Comments | More in Downtown and urban issues | Topics: Downtown Seatt, Downtown Seattle Association

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