Downtown Merchants Want Action On Parking, Crime
Nearly two dozen downtown merchants have demanded a meeting with Mayor Norm Rice and the City Council over crime and parking problems they say are driving customers away.
Business owners say their concerns have escalated with high parking costs, an increasing number of vagrants and the closures of Frederick & Nelson and I. Magnin stores in the area of Sixth Avenue and Pine Street.
"Mayor Rice, would you like to be remembered as the mayor who allowed Downtown Seattle to die?" the letter asked.
At the Times Square Building at Fourth Avenue and Olive Way, Hanz Araki, manager of The Cockpit, a store selling aviation-oriented clothing and items, said people are accosted daily.
"Sometimes the drunks come into the store," said Araki, who signed the letter to Mayor Norm Rice. "They are boisterous, hostile and a nuisance. And the customers sure leave."
Jon Sturtz, manager of The Tux Shop, 1521 Sixth Ave., said, "We're looking for another place."
In the letter sent April 16, Gina Medina, owner of The Mediterranean, 527 Pine St., and other downtown business people asked Rice and City Council members to meet with them in their stores "to experience for yourselves the negative changes affecting our city and to find solutions. . . . "
Mark Murray, Rice's spokesman, said the mayor's office is sympathetic.
"It sounds like there's a communication gap somewhere because I think we would agree with many of the concerns that those businesses express in that letter," Murray said.
About six weeks ago, Murray said, after I. Magnin announced it was closing its downtown store, Rice created a Cabinet-level task force to look at issues facing downtown businesses. The group plans to present its findings and offer suggestions for dealing with the problems cited by the businesses sometime in mid-May, at a meeting with the Downtown Seattle Association.
Among other possibilities, the task force may suggest putting more police in the core retail area to combat crime and adding day-center capacity for vagrants. It also is looking at adding a parking garage at one end of the transit tunnel, to encourage shoppers who drive downtown to travel within the retail core by foot or bus.
Medina, whose store is across from the former Frederick & Nelson store, says her sales have dropped 10 percent in the past year and she has had to lay off two full-time and one part-time salespeople.
"We used to have customers come here from Eastern Washington, Montana and Olympia for the pleasure of shopping. Now they go to the shopping malls where they can park free," she said.
Medina said customers are also being scared away by an increasing number of vagrants.
While the city's decision to increase parking-meter rates to $1.50 per hour have antagonized some shoppers, merchants say there are too many meters with 15-minute restrictions.
"We have to have our customers call ahead so we can run out with their altered clothing," said Becky Freer, manager of Mario's, 1513 Sixth Ave., a specialty men's and women's store. Meters near her store have 15-minute limits that are strictly enforced, she said.
The merchants said in their letter that the police ought to respond to problems caused by vagrants with the same speed and efficiency of the meter maids.
The Downtown Seattle Association has been working on the problems, but Medina says merchants are frustrated with the pace of action. John Gilmore, DSA president, said the DSA has been meeting with the city, and plans to meet again with the mayor next month to discuss the problems.
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