Belltown hopes new park can curb violent crimes

SEATTLE -- An early Tuesday morning shooting dealt another set-back to crime-fighting efforts in Belltown.

A lot of Belltown neighbors say the dope dealing and nuisance crimes are getting better; not so with violent crimes.

But a plan to turn the troubled Bell Street into a public park could help.

Lucie Cehman says she had to watch her back when she opened a deli at Third and Bell three years ago. Worst was the drug-dealing outside her shop, but she says police have turned that around.

"They always come and check with us here if we have any problems, if we need any help with anything," Cheman said.

Newly available police statistics show property crimes are falling citywide, but violent crimes like homicides and assaults are on a troubling rise.

Saturation patrols along Third avenue and a focus on repeat criminals has cut 911 calls 10 percent in the neighborhood. Now, an effort to transform Bell Street into a walkable park could help even more.

"Folks want a safe corridor, they want a vibrant corridor, and they want a green corridor," said Joelle Hammerstad. "And so those were the principals we used."

The proposed park would run down Bell from 1st to 5th Avenues. Car traffic would drop to a single lane, with the space going to landscaped gardens and cafe-style seating.

That could attract tourists and drive-out the criminal element.

"It's a lot of slow, gradual, incremental improvement," Brian Zuagg said. "Ideally the park could be part of that."

The park's potential impact on crime comes with a cost, including the loss of 50 parking spaces. Another problem is that construction begins this spring, just as the tourist season hits full swing.

That could hurt Belltown businesses in the short term, but Behman is looking down the road.

"So if this will be a tourist area, this street, so it will get more business for us here," Cheman said.

City officials are talking with neighbors about that disputed construction timeline, and why delays could push-up the park's cost by a half-million dollars.