Special Events in Neighborhood Business Districts: Only in Seattle’s Peer Network Gathering

This month, the Only in Seattle Peer Network gathering dove deep into the world of special events in Seattle and neighborhood business districts. The Special Events Committee, chaired by Chris Swenson, walked through the current process for permitting a special event, talked about the benefits of special events in Seattle, and touched a bit on upcoming policy reform. Also, representatives from three neighborhood business districts presented brief case studies on the positive impacts of specific events in their neighborhood.

Special Events in Seattle

Kicking things off, Chris Swenson shared that in 2014 there were nearly 400 permitted special events compared to 20 in 1991 (that’s when the special events ordinance was adopted into what it is today). The City recognizes that special events build a sense of pride and place, support our creative culture, strengthen community engagement, and produce a positive economic impact for our city.  In other words, that level of growth over the last 24 years is a good thing. The different types of special events include: free public and community events (e.g. Lunar New Year), free speech events (e.g. MLK March), public commercial events (e.g. Red Bull Soapbox Derby), ticketed sporting and cultural events (e.g. Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon), and promotional events. Chris also shared key information on when one needs a special events permit and teed up presentations from the following representatives of the Special Events Committee:

  • Kyle Griggs, Seattle Parks Department
  • Kate Leitch, Seattle Department of Transportation
  • Tom Heun, Seattle Fire Department
  • Henry Doan and Angelo Marfa, King County Public Health
  • Susan Blaker, Washington State Liquor Control Board
  • Karen Ko, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Chris wrapped things up with a word about the special events reform process that is currently underway. The 1991 ordinance did a good job at attracting special events, and now needs a closer look at a cost recovery system, appropriate fee levels, process improvements and the City’s vision for special events. Neighborhood business districts were pleased to hear this information early on in the process, and Chris shared that the timeline for reaching out to organizations will be summer 2015, with potential reform ordained in early 2016.

Check out the full PowerPoint presentation below and contact information for representatives from the Special Events Committee.

Special Events in Neighborhood Business Districts

Following the special events presentation, three business district leaders kicked off a discussion focused on best practices and lessons learned from specific events in business districts.

Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA) talked about the recent success of the Dragon Fest and Night Market in the neighborhood. Don mentioned that taking a closer look at the event a few years ago and focusing on what works for local business owners helped evolve the event into what it is today. The Dragon Fest and $2 food walk aimed to build a relationship with the businesses and increase foot traffic during the day. The CIDBIA worked with businesses to develop a menu in order to get to the $2 price point. This technical assistance increased the success rate for businesses during this event and built trust in the community.

Jessica Vets, executive director of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, shared that finding the purpose of your events is a priority.  In Fremont’s case, two signature events – Oktoberfest and Fremont Fair and Parade – fulfill two separate purposes, community engagement and fundraising. For Fremont, the annual Oktoberfest is an event aimed at making fundraising fun. The proceeds from this event support ongoing operations for the Chamber to do what it does best – support the local neighborhood businesses. On the other hand, the Fremont Fair and Parade has a community engagement focus that brings together many events to celebrate the culture of Fremont. Jessica stressed that in all cases, communication and outreach is a top priority.

Mike Stewart, executive director of the Ballard Chamber of Commerce told the story about how the Chamber evolved from basically an event production company into an organization that supports the entire business district through a variety of ways, not just executing events. The Ballard Chamber successfully organizes the Seafood Fest annually and makes sure the event is successful for local businesses. One tactic that helps tell the story of events supporting the local economy is an intercept survey that the Chamber conducts during each event. The Chamber partners with local volunteers that have experience in developing surveys. Stats from that survey help tell the story to businesses to continue participating (and sponsoring) the event each year.

Also in attendance, representatives from Georgetown Merchants Association, Beacon Hill Merchants Association and Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce added to the discussion by sharing valuable insights on events execution. Check out the presentation and links below to get started on your special event.

Special Events Presentation

Special Events website: http://www.seattle.gov/special-events-office

King County Public Health useful links:

Washington State Liquor Control Board:

Special Events Committee Contact information: