A rare downtown

Image courtesy Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty

Sometimes we forget how lucky we are. Sure, Downtown Seattle isn’t perfect. But what other downtown (or “greater downtown”) in the US has all of the following in combination?

- A strong office base that’s the dominant core of its region

- Leadership in the technology, research, and innovation economy

- Room to grow

- Great shopping, from major chains to mom & pops

- Lots of tourism, including business and pleasure visitors

- A good number of residents, from 20-somethings to retirees, and from rich to starving artists

- Excellent arts and entertainment – performing, visual, movies, etc.

- Fantastic scenery and natural setting

- A mix of new, old, innovative, and traditional

- A heart and soul with numerous beloved touchpoints

The “room to grow” point might seem odd. We city enthusiasts tend to love cities that are already mostly full, like Boston, and we can be impatient that Seattle isn’t there yet. But a downtown is an economic engine, not just for enjoyment. Accommodating growth and change is crucial in a growing region and changing world. Seattle is lucky that (a) we have growing organizations, (b) that they want to be in the center of town, and (c) that the center of town has room for them, at any size.

We also owe a big thanks to tourists, an often maligned group. Many do nothing more than fly in, drop hundreds (or thousands) on clothes, hotels, and related taxes, and leave. They subsidize our museums, which can be far more ambitious because of it. They give restaurants more reason to open beyond standard lunch and dinner times. Most don’t drive, as evidenced by the small garages at our hotels. So what if they get in the way sometimes. Why not be glad for the boost, and even flattered that they chose to come?

That gets to the biggest key for a vibrant downtown – variety. If you want great retail and busy sidewalks, you need a lot of types of people doing a lot of types of things. Office workers bring peak daytime crowds and busy lunch places. Residents buy furniture and groceries, and are always around regardless of time and weather. Retirees, service workers, artists, and executives are all valued customers for broad ranges of stores. Special credit goes to any group that adds activity without focusing it all on 8:00 am and 5:00 pm, like students and tourists.

We’re not only doing well on every front, but improving in most. Retail, offices, tourism, housing, research, and the arts are all growing. As a result, we will gain vibrancy, while the “room to grow” gradually diminishes. And maybe we’ll be even luckier.