Seattle Culture

The Upside of Downtown Seattle

Activity is up, crime is down, people are returning

By Rob Smith March 8, 2024


More than 106,000 residents now call downtown Seattle home. Thirty-one construction projects are underway. More than 3.5 million out-of-town visitors spent time in the city’s core last summer, a post-pandemic high.

Those are just a few of the numbers cited at Thursday’s annual State of Downtown summit held by the Downtown Seattle Association. While challenges remain, those and other numbers paint a picture of a city in recovery.

“It will take all of us working together to continue building on our current momentum and further the revitalization of downtown, which benefits the entire city and region,” Downtown Seattle Association President and CEO Jon Scholes told the more than 1,100 people at the event. 

According to the State of Downtown report, more than 336,000 jobs are based downtown, or 54% of the city’s total employment. Weekday worker foot traffic averaged about 80,000 per day last year, 33% higher than in 2022. A record 1.7 million passengers passed through downtown during last year’s cruise season on 291 sailings. The Seattle Convention Center hosted 75 new conventions last year, 27% higher than in 2019.

Downtown Seattle will also look very different a year from now once the ambitious waterfront makeover is complete. City officials say it’s the most comprehensive downtown renovation happening in the United States.

“We should never underestimate the significance of downtown Seattle to our city,” said Seattle City Council President Sara Nelson. “It’s not just about buildings and businesses, it’s about making the heart of our city accessible and welcoming for everyone.”

While the numbers paint a mostly positive picture, the fentanyl crisis still poses a significant challenge. There were 143 overdose deaths in the downtown core last year, a 46% increase from 2022. That was the highest increase in the country. Eighty-two percent of those deaths involved fentanyl.

As the report notes: “The influx of fentanyl into downtown Seattle has strained the resources of local health care providers and social service organizations. The dramatic increase in overdose deaths these past few years underscores the severity of the escalating public health crisis gripping the heart of the city, taxing public services and increasingly harming the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Investment in the city’s core, however, is robust. More than $415 million was invested in the downtown core last year, and 6,400 new housing units are under construction, with an additional 15,000 units proposed or in final planning stages.

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