Joined by a troupe of tap dancers and gymnasts that drew a crowd in Seattle’s Westlake Park, Mayor Jenny Durkan made it clear in a speech on Thursday: Downtown Seattle is open for business.
The mayor kicked off what the city is calling “Welcome Back Weeks,” four weeks of activities and promotions in July and September to lure Seattleites back to downtown neighborhoods.
The first stretch of activities began on July 12, and will go until July 26. The second is planned for September 4-19.
“We want to think beyond onetime events,” said Durkan, who is not seeking reelection this year. “We want to re-create and rebirth our areas in the downtown, and in our neighborhoods.”
The first large-scale event is from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Chinatown International District, with martial arts demonstrations, live music and circus performers in Hing Hay Park. Next weekend, on July 24 and 25, the city has planned events in Pioneer Square and Westlake, respectively.
In addition to public art installations, concerts, and booths stationed around the city offering refreshments and giveaways, the city is also setting up additional COVID-19 vaccination sites. At Welcome Back Week clinics, the city is offering the first 100 people to get vaccinated one-day tickets to the Day In Day Out music festival happening this September at the Seattle Center.
And for kids and families, the Westlake event will feature “Halloween in July.”
The city is spending $300,000 on Welcome Back Weeks, part of a $9 million investment it has committed to post-pandemic downtown recovery projects.
Despite the support the city is offering, some small-business owners are not as confident in the recovery. It will be an “uphill battle to bring downtown back to life,” said Olga Sagan, owner of Piroshky Piroshky, a Seattle bakery chain.
Of her three store locations, two remain closed, including the bakery at Third Avenue and Pike Street. “Downtown right now is a very dark space … it’s not welcoming, it’s not safe, it’s not prone to tourists,” she said, also noting, “I personally have a very hard time even staffing [that location].”
Sagan said she has not received any direct financial support thus far from the city or the Downtown Seattle Association.
“Uncertainty is poison for business, and we’ve had plenty of it over the last 16 months,” said Jon Scholes, CEO of the downtown association, said in an interview after speaking at the event Thursday.
Scholes said Seattle’s strong vaccination rates (above 70% for vaccine-eligible residents) will give the city a “springboard for recovery,” even amid the threat of new variants rising around the United States. During his speech Thursday, Scholes pointed to signs of progress: rising hotel occupancy, parks full of people and a man in a cowboy hat and chicken suit walking behind him.
“That’s what downtown is all about,” he said. “Those unexpected experiences that you can’t get in your own kitchen, [that] you can’t get behind your laptop, [that] you can only get by showing up in this great downtown of ours.”