Concerns about crime in downtown Seattle escalated sharply this week after Weyerhaeuser reportedly delayed his return to his Pioneer Square headquarters due to security concerns in the neighborhood.
In an email to employees, Denise Merle, director of administration at Weyerhaeuser, said the logging company would not bring workers back to the offices overlooking Occidental Park without “significant and lasting improvements in neighborhood safety.” , according to a news article Thursday.
Weyerhaeuser declined to confirm the post or comment on the matter.
But Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, said in a conversation with officials at Weyerhaeuser in mid-September, “it was made clear to me that they had no made the decision to come back and will not do so until they see some improvement in safety in the neighborhood.
The conversation took place shortly after a man was stabbed on September 13 while walking his dog in Pioneer Square, Scholes said.
Many employers have delayed returning from their offices due to the increase in cases of COVID-19 and the delta variant. But Weyerhaeuser appears to be the first major employer to explicitly link their delay not only to COVID-19 but also to public safety concerns.
Other owners of businesses and organizations in the neighborhood were not surprised that Weyerhaeuser gave up public safety following a recent spate of shootings and assaults and the presence of a tent camp in the emblematic pergola of the district.
In the absence of effective policies to ensure public safety, Scholes said, these concerns “might be part of the reasoning of other employers, if they haven’t already.”
“It’s hard to get your staff to come back when we have so many problems,” said Ali Ghambari, owner of Cherry Street Coffee House. He said he had to put security in the door of his Pioneer Square store to prevent his employees from resigning for security reasons.
Some businesses in Pioneer Square have hailed the news of Weyerhaeuser’s delay, saying it could be a red flag to city officials who some merchants say have not given enough attention or resources to the neighborhood. iconic.
“I’m glad they said that, because you know what?” They’ll watch out for Weyerhaeuser, ”said Darcy Hanson, whose Merchants Cafe and Saloon is across Yesler Way from the tent camp.
Weyerhaeuser’s decision to delay, first reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal, comes at a delicate time for downtown Seattle.
The neighborhood is struggling to recover from the pandemic, which has emptied it of most of the tourists and office workers who support many downtown businesses.
But the Weyerhaeuser decision also comes at a critical time for Pioneer Square in particular. Many restaurants, bars, galleries and other businesses in the iconic neighborhood have started to see signs of an economic recovery, in part thanks to the return of tourists and fans to Mariners, Sounders and Seahawks games.
But many fear that momentum may be dampened by perceptions of rampant homelessness and street crime, said Andrew Lewis, a member of Seattle City Council, whose district covers Pioneer Square.
“You can see the flowers of a very strong recovery in Pioneer Square, especially compared to a year ago,” Lewis said. “But you can really see the tension where this recovery coincides with very real ongoing public safety challenges and very visible urban poverty that we need to address.”
According to the Seattle Police Department’s Crime Dashboard, reports of violent crime in Pioneer Square through September are up about 14% from the same period in 2020, but down 17% compared to the same period in 2019. Property crime reports this year are down 26% and 49% from 2020 and 2019, respectively.
Traders say concerns about street crime and homelessness affect their customers and employees. Hanson says one of her bartenders was assaulted by someone staying in the homeless camp, which also drew “hellish reviews” from guests who stayed at the hotel she heads over the bar.
“I wouldn’t take my staff there if you could have a ‘remote’ bartender,” she says. “But you can’t.”
Lewis and other board members say they are trying to meet these challenges. In September, the board approved approximately $ 10 million in police department funding for community service officers and crime prevention coordinators, board member Lisa Herbold, chair of the committee for the crime, said on Friday. public security and social services, in a statement.
The council is also funding an alternative emergency response system that “will allow us to deploy the right response rather than sending an armed police station on every 911 call,” Herbold said.
The city also pledged to spend a record $ 200 million on affordable housing as part of the recent budget released by Mayor Jenny Durkan.
It remains to be seen whether these fixes can provide a sufficient sense of security for downtown traders, workers and tourists – and employers.
In the meantime, the Pioneer Square problems – and Weyerhaeuser’s delay – may well become fodder in the intensified campaigns for mayor and city council, which have already been heavily shaped by a heated debate over the city’s response. crime and homelessness.