All that could change, however, if city planners and members of the Broadway Business Improvement Association have their way. Broadway, running through Capitol Hill, is the focus of a major development effort that could leave the strip from Pine to Roy Streets resembling a sterile, upscale shopping mall.
The villain is "growth." It was growth--and tougher policing--that transformed downtown from a flophouse for the mentally ill and homeless to a cleaned-up, slicked-up entertainment center for suburbanites in pressed khakis. Growth is also transforming Belltown from an eclectic, artist-driven neighborhood into condo hell. And now growth is coming to Capitol Hill, which is second only to downtown in the amount of development slated for the coming years.
Many of the people doing the long-term planning for Capitol Hill think the downtown growth strategy--more upscale shops, less street life, heavier policing--is just what Broadway needs. Kevin Guertin, who runs the Broadway Business Improvement Association, wants to populate the street with more stores that would be attractive to "a young professional gay couple buying their first house." He says he loves that Broadway is a "wild and crazy street," but worries that it's "too wild and crazy." He says, "People from the north and the east don't feel safe on Broadway anymore. We are catering to a group of people who can walk here and don't feel threatened by panhandling."
'A SHOPPING DESTINATION'
Nobody's coming out and saying they want to sacrifice Broadway's character to massive development. Blake Gray, president of the Capitol Hill Community Council, which represents residents, says most of the area's families and seniors she talks to want to preserve the street's thriving youth culture, for example. "They don't mind small inexpensive places to eat as long as there are no drugs and crime," she says.
On the other hand, she acknowledges that driving kids out of the area will be an inevitable side effect if the city's plan for Capitol Hill (outlined in a document called, preciously enough, the "Capitol Hill Urban Center Village Neighborhood Plan") is adopted. One portion of the plan calls for covering Lincoln Reservoir and adorning it with fancy fountains, a landscaped jogging trail, and ornamental gardens--hardly a friendly atmosphere for the street punks who hang out there now. "If the street becomes more economically viable, [the kids] will be displaced," she says.
Better teens than chi-chi businesses, though. Guertin laments that Opus 204, a store that featured "tasteful, upscale funky clothes for middle-aged women," recently left Broadway for downtown because "its customer base didn't feel they belonged here."
Gray agrees: "We have to make sure that Broadway is revitalized and economically viable to sustain [future] population growth."
But isn't Broadway, with its near-24-hour bustle and high rents, pretty vital already? After all, even the handful of storefronts now standing vacant are almost all scheduled to house new businesses. "Broadway is not as revitalized as the University Village," Gray says, "not as modern, clean, and bright. Broadway is more of an incense shop/smoke shop/liquor store area--it's more downscale than upscale."
It's scary to hear Gray compare the future of Broadway to sterile, lifeless University Village. Yet there are two major building projects she and Guertin hope will move the area in that direction: a stretch of retail shops and an apartment development over the Harvard QFC, and a large development on the abandoned triangle at the end of Roy which would feature apartments, stores, and possibly a library.
The Roy project, which may benefit from loosened zoning restrictions governing height, could accommodate an "anchor store." Gray is jonesing for a Restoration Hardware: "University Village has a Restoration Hardware, and so does downtown. There aren't that many spaces large enough to accommodate a store like that on Broadway, and it could really make the street a shopping destination."
A towering retail development plunked right in the middle of the historic Roy/Broadway area doesn't sit well with neighbors. The site faces the turn-of-the-century Loveless Building, with its stones, shingles, gas lamps, and wrought-iron sign holders, and is right around the corner from the Women's Century Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the Harvard/Belmont historic neighborhood. Longtime Capitol Hill resident Margaret Friedman says the fact that the city is even considering waiving zoning requirements for the project shows that "the neighborhood plan came into being with the particular interest of developers in mind."
Bary Rogel, who runs the Deluxe Bar and Grill on Broadway and Roy, agrees. "There's all this rah-rah energy around the plan being based on 'the needs of the community,' but if you look closer it does not represent the wishes of the people in that neighborhood."
WEED AND SEED BROADWAY-STYLE
All the plans in the world aren't going to turn Broadway into a "shopping destination," though, if potential customers are scared off by punks, street musicians, and clove cigarette smokers.
Guertin is cooking up a voucher program that would encourage local businesses to post anti-panhandling signs and give kids vouchers for food and hygiene products. And he has been working with police to introduce the controversial policing program, Weed and Seed, to Broadway. Last Monday, the City Council approved an extension of the program, which had previously only operated in the Central District and southeast Seattle. When the plan was initially implemented in those areas, residents complained of racist behavior on the part of cops, and said they were too aggressive in doing their jobs.
Lieutenant Harry Bailey of the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct says Guertin played a major role in bringing Weed and Seed to Broadway, and that it's necessary. "Those hard-core people--people out there for the purpose of being a nuisance, looking for drugs and selling drugs--we're going to have to deal with them," he says. "A lot of the kids get more aggressive it seems like every day. There are issues of people being accosted at sidewalk cafes. Those are really issues people are annoyed by, I guess."
The neighborhood plan contains other provisions for increased policing and security. City Councilmember Richard Conlin, who heads the city's Neighborhoods, Growth Planning, and Civic Engagement Committee, says his agency's goals dovetail nicely with those of the Business Improvement Association. "There is a lot of overlap in terms of wanting to create a vibrant and safe economic community," he says.
And though some businesses, like Urban Outfitters, thrive on Broadway's youth culture ("Panhandlers know where the highest foot traffic is," says realtor Janet Birch, "and you can tell what areas are bustling by where they plant themselves"), it's no surprise that some Broadway business owners support increased policing. Barbara Bailey, who has run Bailey/Coy Books for 15 years, says, "The overall concept is good. It would do wonders for this area. When there are six or seven kids in front of my store, people won't come in. It goes against my leftist feelings to support it, but they definitely give an air more threatening than welcoming."
In some ways, the controversy's ground zero falls at the Capitol Hill Youth Center, a program that provides services for homeless youth, run out of the basement of Pilgrim Church on Republican and Broadway. On the day I visit, a boy with dirty red hair snores in a La-Z-Boy, two kids are engrossed in a game of ping-pong, and a cluster of hippies munch bagels and play with a dog. "What [businesses] don't like is that they think we're attracting kids to the neighborhood," says the center's director, Jan Munger, who's been feeling more and more pressure from local merchants.
Since early this fall, she's been battled a proposal to put security guards around the Broadway Market. She says she's received angry letters blaming her agency for aggressive panhandling, allegedly keeping customers away. "It's just been a constant that some people are blaming the youth. People are trying to close us down all the time," she says, handing an apple to a boy wearing a velvet house-dress over a tie-dyed T-shirt.
Most alarming, she says, is the spate of police raids on the center that began in January. She says officers have been coming around and "harassing the kids. They told them they were going to be coming by regularly." Munger says cops have walked through the center lifting blankets off sleeping kids' faces and making snide remarks. "It was purely for intimidation. If they were really looking for any of these kids, they knew in an hour they'd be back on the street."
While it's understandable that Broadway business owners would be nervous about losing customers to downtown's Pacific Place or University Village, looking to those areas as models for growth is a horrible idea. There's a reason panhandlers don't hang out at University Village--it's the same reason protests and parades don't weave through it and kids don't play in the spray of its fire hydrants. Exclusive, polished University Village isn't a public space. Its interior cobblestone path, spotless from daily scourings, only serves to evoke nostalgia for the messy, fleshy thump of the street life it increasingly silences.