Historic Seattle neighborhood hoping for $875K boost from city

SEATTLE - Community leaders say major Seattle construction projects are hindering their ability to improve the Chinatown-International District and are hurting the future of local businesses. Now, in an effort to ease the blow felt in the historic neighborhood, the city is proposing a nearly $900,000 investment.

"For us this investment is very important," says Joyce Pisnanont, program director for the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda). "It's a statement that shows the commitment the city has to supporting neighborhoods like ours."

Pisnanont says for years the Chinatown-International District has struggled with high vacancy rates neighborhood wide, reaching as much as 20-percent in 2008. Focused on bringing that number down she says community leaders managed to get within 16-percent but then came the two-year long First Hill Streetcar project.

"Businesses can't weather that two-year storm," Pisnanont says.

Construction of the Streetcar is just one city-wide project currently underway in the Chinatown-International District; Yesler Terrace redevelopment is another. Both of these are affecting some of the progress community groups such as SCIDpda have been working toward.

"The neighborhood is saying, 'Hey we did our plan, but the city keeps throwing us curveballs,'" says Karin Zaugg Black, spokeswoman for the Office of Economic Development.

Recognizing the hardship and disruption these projects pose on the neighborhood, the city's proposed budget for next year contains an $875,000 investment specifically allocated for the Chinatown-International District.

Zaugg Black said it is not uncommon for the city to provide additional money to neighborhoods experiencing large-scale, somewhat-disruptive projects. The city did it for Capitol Hill several years ago when it started seeing a number of retail tenants move. She says the city also offered support to the South Park business district when the South Park Bridge closed.

If the investment for the historic neighborhood is approved, $580,000 would go toward helping the neighborhood implement business-development and streetscape-improvement projects. The remaining $295,000 would be used on a feasibility study looking at expanding local healthcare services to meet the community's growing senior population.

"In partnership with our community health clinic, we would work toward creating a hub of healthcare services for seniors so they can age in place," Pisnanont says.

SCIDpda, which operates Legacy House, an assisted living facility, provides housing and care for 75 local residents. Pisnanont says with seniors making up 55 percent of the neighborhood's population, year-long waiting lists and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, every dollar helps.

"This is particularly important because we know there is the gray-wave, as a nation; as a whole we are seeing an aging population," she says.

The Seattle City Council is currently reviewing the mayor's 2014 budget proposal. The next public hearing on the budget will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at Garfield High School. The city council will decide if the $875,000 investment to the Chinatown-International District will be approved with the budget.