Seattle business leaders request ‘immediate action’ from the city to improve safety in downtown

Tents line a downtown Seattle street. (GeekWire Photo / John Cook)

In a sharply worded letter to Seattle and King County councils, members of the Downtown Seattle Association said the neighborhood is in crisis from crime and homelessness and that people should expect more businesses to move or close unless measures are taken soon.

The letter, signed by DSA CEO Jon Scholes along with representatives from Amazon, Vulcan, Weyerhaeuser, downtown law firms, the Seattle Kraken and others, includes a laundry list of complaints, crime story citations and grim statistics that the letter describes collectively as a “threat to recovery and the lives of people in need.”

Downtown Seattle Association CEO Jon Scholes. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

“There has been a significant increase in violent crime in downtown Seattle since 2015. SPD, already understaffed for a city the size of Seattle, has lost nearly 300 officers since early 2020,” the letter states, adding that businesses have begun to hire off-duty cops for protection.

“Property crime and shoplifting are having a major impact on many downtown retailers, restaurants and attractions. Retailers, arts and cultural venues and other businesses are spending sizable resources on private security to compensate for a lack of police and the absence of other public safety and health responses,” the letter continued.

Warning that pandemic-related downtown business closures — already at 500 shuttered, according to the DSA — will continue to increase, the business group asked that city and county take the following actions:

  • That the council and the mayor’s office adopt proposed public safety and housing investments in the proposed 2022 budget to increase police staffing, build new housing and shelter, expand the Health One program and increase the number of Community Service Officers.
  • That the council and the mayor’s office adopt recommendations of the 2019 High Barrier Work Group, which was jointly convened to address individuals with significant and repeated interactions with the criminal legal and emergency response systems.
  • That the council and the mayor’s office help offset new security-related expenses being incurred by small businesses, retailers and arts and cultural venues due to reduced SPD staffing and increased response times.

Seattle city council members could not be reached for comment. GeekWire reached out to both mayoral candidates Lorena Gonzalez and Bruce Harrell for response.

The letter comes as questions swirl about the future of downtown’s status as a business district, where Amazon and other tech companies are based. The area was largely deserted when companies sent employees home at the outset of the pandemic. Some companies are now looking to reduce their physical office footprint with the shift to remote work.

The majority of Seattle tech workers don’t expect to ever return to their offices full time, according to a recent survey from Sea.Citi.

Lou Bond, the general manager of the Melbourne, a 10-story office building on 3rd Avenue and Pike Street, said the downtown area has always had its share of crime but since 2019, “it’s gotten substantially worse.”

Bond has worked as general manager of the building since 1987. Last year, the crime situation had gotten so out of hand that he organized the managers of eight nearby buildings to hire off-duty police to patrol the area between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. at a cost of $35,000 a month.

He blames rampant drug addiction and untreated mental health issues coupled with fewer police and a civic disinclination to prosecute some crimes for the neighborhood’s decline. So for him, signing the letter was an easy decision.

But, he added, he is hopeful that the letter will get the city’s attention and prompt change. He called himself a “glass is half-full” kind of guy. One of the real problems, he said, is the city’s inaction in the face of significant problems. Civic inaction regarding the addicted and those suffering from mental illness is not compassion, he said.

“We have to help them,” he said. “They are our brothers and sisters.”

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Civic Crime Downtown seattle association Homelessness Jon scholes