The U District Partnership and Washington State Department of Commerce have announced a significant investment in Seattle’s University District. Over 140 small businesses in the U District have received a total of $5 million in funding, enabling them to make strategic improvements to their facades and facilities. These investments will not only enhance the appearance and operations of the businesses but also have a lasting impact on the U District as a whole.
The funding was made possible through one-time ARPA dollars released by the Washington State Department of Commerce earlier this year. The aim was to assist small businesses owned by women and people of color that were affected by the pandemic. The U District Partnership was able to issue grants to 140 small business owners, who in turn made important investments in their facilities and customer-facing assets such as signage, lighting, and windows.
The U District is known for its high concentration of small businesses owned by women and people of color. Of the 141 business owners who received grant funding, 86% were owned by women and/or people of color. These businesses, many of which are food-service oriented, were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic.
One business owner, Lois Ko of Sweet Alchemy, expressed her gratitude for the grant, stating that it has been a game-changer for her business. The funding has not only improved the facade of her store but has also doubled her coffee business simply by adding the word “espresso” to her new awning.
The grant funding was not limited to facade improvements but also allowed businesses to invest in outdoor dining structures. Over 20 businesses utilized their grant funding to create outdoor seating options, increasing seating capacity by over 450 seats in the U District. This investment in outdoor dining has not only benefited the businesses but has also contributed to the revitalization of the neighborhood.
The City of Seattle has played a crucial role in the implementation of these grant-funded projects and the overall revitalization of the U District. The Seattle Department of Transportation and Office of Permitting and Construction worked closely with small business owners to ensure the completion of their projects within the constraints of the funding.
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell acknowledged the importance of supporting small businesses, particularly those owned by women and people of color. He believes that this smart and strategic investment will give entrepreneurs and small businesses the tools they need to thrive and build successful enterprises.
In addition to the facade and facility improvements, the City of Seattle has invested in other economic revitalization strategies in the U District. These include funding to support outdoor dining, commercial corridor tree lighting, capacity building, and a broken window repair pilot program.
The revitalization of the U District is particularly significant given the competition it has faced from other shopping destinations in recent years. However, with the addition of a light rail station and the construction of new housing units, the U District is experiencing a renaissance.
To showcase the improvements made with the grant funding, the U District Partnership is hosting the Third Annual U District $4 Food Walk on September 30th. The event will feature $4 bites from over 70 different U District businesses, allowing attendees to experience the revitalization firsthand.
Overall, the investment in the U District has had a significant and positive impact on small businesses in the area. The funding has not only improved their appearance but has also increased their capacity to serve customers and generate revenue. This investment, along with the support from the City and the state, has helped the U District thrive and grow. It serves as a successful example of collaboration and partnership in supporting local businesses.