Seattle Tests New Ideas to Attract Retailers

August 14, 2011
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In Seattle, city leaders and activists are trying to find new strategies to combat a struggling retail market. The Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) reports that while retailers comprise 71 percent of all street-level business in downtown Seattle, roughly 300 ground-floor spaces are still waiting to be filled.
DSA officials believe that the high vacancy rates can be remedied by an even higher influx of residents.

In a report by the Seattle Times, DSA cited Pioneer Square, the Chinatown International District, and Belltown as among those areas where more affordable housing is needed. DSA believes that by increasing more affordable housing in these areas, the city will bring in eager retailers that are ready to fill vacancies. Additionally, DSA officials assert that new housing projects already underway in the South Lake Union area, among others, will help lure retailers to fill some of the empty ground-floor space.

While DSA maintains that more affordable housing will help fill space, many city leaders see current zoning restrictions as the real problem. Leaders would like to eliminate the zoning stipulation that requires developers to include ground-floor space for businesses in apartment projects for neighborhood commercial districts.

City officials argue that surrounding suburban areas where foot traffic is low suffer greatly from this zoning law. They claim that the city should focus on creating more concentrated areas for retailers to gather rather than requiring them to spread out into different neighborhoods. Many developers that build projects in these suburban areas also support this proposal because it gives them more freedom to decide what their building needs to become successful. Under the current zoning regulations, developers are constricted to leasing ground-floor space to retailers.

However, this proposal doesn’t come without opposition. While property owners would like a more flexible law, some cite the need for city officials to encourage developers to focus on retail instead of just using the law to develop more apartment complexes.

More affordable housing and new zoning amendments are not the only suggestions experts are making. Officials at Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development say that the increased leasing activity already occurring in both office and residential markets will reduce the number of vacant storefronts later this year. Officials argue that commercial retail takes time, and if the two markets continue to progress, commercial retail will soon follow.

Source: The Seattle Times