Seattle’s business district managers discover new resources for commercial affordability

On May 31, 2018 about 15 business district managers from across Seattle gathered together at a local startup firm – Blokable – to discuss commercial affordability. The Office of Economic Development’s (OED) Only in Seattle, Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship and Innovation teams, in partnership with the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDPDA) and Onpoint Real Estate Services, organized this peer networking event to share a model for commercial lease education workshops in Chinatown ID and Little Saigon, vet innovative solutions for affordable commercial space, and make connections between business districts.

Blokable—a local startup manufacturer of pre-fabricated housing units that are modular, or stackable, to create multistory residential or mixed-use buildings—launched to reinvent the construction and manufacturing process to be more efficient, green and affordable. Blokable units are cheaper and can deliver results faster than the traditional affordable home building process; think 21st century, tech-enabled mobile homes with a completely redesigned building, delivery and installation process and the ability for commercial uses. Imagine the possibilities! We started the event with lunch catered by San Fernando’s and a self-tour of a Blokable unit – a 300ft2 studio, fully equipped with a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, lighting and heating. The unit is mobile and can be transported on the back of a semi-truck to almost any destination. As we settled into the agenda, Aaron Holm, Blokable’s Co-CEO spoke to the group about the how the company started and the potential for commercial uses. Want to see Blokable in action? Check out the latest project in Edmonds, WA in partnership with Compass Housing Alliance.

Next, Ken Takahashi, OED’s Development Finance Advisor, introduced OED’s business services and shared the ways in which OED is supporting commercial affordability. Reasonable rents are not the only definition of commercial affordability. A broader approach includes innovative space ideas like Blokable’s products, and education efforts such as commercial lease education workshops, the second topic of the peer networking event.

Jennifer Tam, OED’s Restaurant Advocate and Shanti Breznau, SCIDPDA’s Business Development Manager, presented the model they are using for commercial lease education workshops in Chinatown ID and Little Saigon. They discussed how they developed the curriculum for the workshop series, outreach and engagement methods, and why local grassroots capacity is so critical to the success of designing and executing the workshop. The Commercial Lease Education Workshop overview provides additional details on the program, and you can get an inside look into the second workshop (Vietnamese, Simplified Chinese) that featured tenant improvements—a major factor when it comes to new and existing tenants. A unique feature of the workshop series is relationship building with business owners. Through Shanti’s connections, she knew translation and interpretation services would be essential to a successful workshop, and the content was translated into two languages – Vietnamese and Chinese.

In addition to the workshop series in Chinatown ID and Little Saigon, OED contracted with Onpoint Real Estate Services to provide city-wide workshops on broader lease education topics. Onpoint’s Managing Partner, Jaebadiah Gardner, and his staff will consult with individual business owners on their lease challenges for up to five hours for free. Please contact Yonas Seifu to learn more and get connected to Onpoint for your business needs.

Throughout the presentations, district managers were asked a guiding question – how could you adapt these services to work in your district? To close out the meeting, there was a robust conversation among all the attendees to iterate and expand on these offerings. OED will be following up individually with districts that expressed interest in hosting a commercial lease education workshop and explore partnership opportunities with Blokable to bring affordable commercial options to Seattle’s underutilized space. If you have any questions, please follow up with OED or one of our partners listed below.

More resources from the presentation can be found below:

Land use resources to monitor and track development:

Only in Seattle Newsletter – May 2018

The Only in Seattle newsletter is designed to share resources and information with leaders in Seattle’s neighborhood business districts.

In this edition:

  • Invitation to Peer Networking – Commercial Affordability Best Practices and Resources;
  • Employment Opportunities in the Central Area and University District;
  • Grants with the Department of Neighborhood’s Neighborhood Matching Fund;
  • Micro-Business Saturday with Ventures;
  • Neighborhood Events;
  • and more!

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Data at your Fingertips – Only in Seattle Peer Network Recap

On Thursday, June 29, district managers from around Seattle gathered in the Beacon Hill Library to learn about two sources of data relevant to business districts – OED’s Business Decision Engine and King County’s LocalScape. OED’s Economic Intelligence Advisor, John Crawford-Gallagher, presented the ins-and-outs of how to use the Business Decision Engine, and Business Improvement Area Advocate, Phillip Sit, presented features of LocalScape pertaining to district managers.

The Business Decision Engine presents data in a way that existing business owners and entrepreneurs can access conveniently. Market research topics ranging from transportation, competition and environment to employment trends, population growth and industry trends are at the fingertips of small and mid-sized businesses to make the best decision for their company and discover future business opportunities. The beta version of the Business Decision Engine is out now and John is accepting additional feedback that will help improve the tool.

With LocalScape, district managers can access property data and demographics easily for any customized boundary. District managers that want to engage community members around a Business Improvement Area, or advocate for resources or support will find census data, property valuations, and permit activity all on the site. King County updates the data every two weeks and district managers can use it to engage with new property owners and their development projects. The flexibility of the tool makes it a great resource for districts to craft a compelling story.

OED’s Business Districts Advocate, Mikel Davila shared additional data resources, including the Only in Seattle Neighborhood Data Profiles – a profile of six key indicators that track the general health and vitality of a commercial district over the last 5 years using city, county and state data. The indicators are: population, number of firms, jobs, retail/restaurant sales, and residential and commercial vacancy and rental rates.

Keep a look out on the Bottom Line blog, the OIS newsletter and the OED website for the upcoming Peer Networks and don’t forget to take the Peer Network Survey and tell us what topics you’d like to see next.

For more information, please contact:

Business Decision Engine:
John Crawford-Gallagher, Economic Intelligence Advisor, 206-684-4008

Phillip Sit, Business Improvement Area Advocate, 206-256-5137

Resources for Businesses, Business District Org Structures, and more — Only in Seattle Peer Network Gatherings

On May 28, 2015, the Office of Economic Development (OED) hosted the second Business Retention and Expansion Partnership Peer Network Gathering. The first gathering in February focused on access to capital, and each of OED’s financing partners described how they are able to meet the various needs of business owners. While most of us agree that access to capital is one of, if not, the most important aspect to launching and growing a small business, technical assistance, resources, and support increase a business’ chances of long-term success. The good news is that OED’s experts are available to provide that technical assistance directly to businesses. Three experts from OED presented at the March Peer Network Gathering and shared how they are able to help.

Stephanie Gowing, Green Business Advocate, shared conservation services to help your business reduce utility bills, meet regulatory obligations, and lower operating costs. Also, Get on the Map is a unique opportunity for businesses to go green and receive free positive media attention at the same time. Coming soon is the Regional Green Business Program, a partnership with regional agencies to centralize resources, coordinate outreach and marketing, increase utilization for existing programs, and reward business’ environmental accomplishments. For more information, please contact Stephanie Gowing at or 206-684-3698.

James Kelly, Small Business Advocate, discussed the perils of construction for a small business. James’ responsibility is to establish a direct line of communication with business and property owners impacted by construction, provide businesses with connections to training and capacity building, and manage marketing and promotional campaigns for business districts impacted by construction. Given Seattle’s construction boom right now, James is in demand and always willing to help. As an example, James finds unique ways to partner with developers and private parking lots for additional parking for construction workers during times when construction reduces the amount of parking for local businesses. For inquires related to construction impacts to businesses, please contact James Kelly at or 206-684-8612.

Jennifer Tam, Restaurant Advocate, is the City’s main point of contact if you have any questions regarding your food business. Jennifer is here to help whether you are a restaurant, food cart, commercial kitchen, home-based food business, or anything in between. The Restaurant Success online portal is a good place to start if you have questions about starting or growing your food business. Jennifer can help with permitting, site-selection assistance, navigating the regulatory landscape, and more. Feel free to contact Jennifer for any questions you have at or 206-684-3436.

Through the Business Retention and Expansion partnership with local chambers of commerce, businesses can access support from these experts to help start, grow, or green their businesses. Check out the full presentation below.


Business District Organization Structures and Small Business Support

On April 30, business district leaders met over lunch at Big Chickie in Hillman City to talk shop. On the agenda was a topic that some business districts struggle with: What organizational structure is most successful and sustainable? While there is no right and easy answer for that, leaders stepped up to share successes and challenges of their own organizational structures, and how daily operations function. Rob Mohn of the Columbia City Business Association (CCBA) shared an overview of CCBA’s all-volunteer model and the evolution of the version that exists today. CCBA’s organizational structure relies heavily on volunteer hours from folks on four main committees: Goodwill, Marketing, Membership, and Business Development, and the public safety and cleanliness work is supported by the Business Improvement Area (BIA). A few keys to success from CCBA are: defining a reasonable geography, focusing on business district concerns and not overall neighborhood issues, and cultivating partnerships. Georgetown and Beacon Hill are similar in that they have paid staff, a 501(c)(3) designation, and rely on grants, sponsorship, and membership revenue to support events and existing programs. Challenges with both models seem to be sustainability and the amount of donated time by volunteers and board members in order to produce effective results. Continue reading the meeting notes for more information.

While a siesta was in order after the “pollo a la brasa,” folks were energized to talk about small business retention amidst all the growth and development pressures in Seattle. What can the City do to support small businesses better? What tools can OED offer and are there innovative tools that the City can adopt to support small businesses? While the concern was real, there were also potential solutions that were presented: Better access to technical assistance providers to support small business retention, and a handbook or resource guide to learn about what the City can do to help and how communities can access these resources were two ideas thrown out there. With that in mind, check out the following:

Some existing resources for communities to access:

  • Engage with the Design Review Board; DRB can convey community priorities to developers
  • Be an organized and proactive community, engage in local Land Use Review Committees
  • Explore Historic Districts and Landmark Preservation models
  • Find out if you are eligible for financing through Section 108 or New Markets Tax Credits
  • Access business technical assistance resources through the Business Retention and Expansion Partnership

Here are areas where the City can provide more assistance:

  • A guidebook for Department of Planning and Development to focus on the policy and review process
  • Engage in round table discussions with businesses and neighborhood planning
  • Retain affordable commercial space
  • Coordinate permitting processes to mitigate construction impacts on small businesses

Check out the meeting notes for more information. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to OED and we will be happy to help.

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:

King County Public Health useful links:

Washington State Liquor Control Board:

Special Events Committee Contact information: