Mayor Charlie Hales' plan to extend—over substantial neighborhood concern—Old Town's five-month-old "entertainment district" will come before council this afternoon, in what could prove a lengthy, testy hearing.
City commissioners will take their first crack at an ordinance [PDF] prepared at the direction of Hales earlier this month, authorizing cops and the city's Bureau of Transportation to extend the district through October.
The zone—a collection of streets in Old Town's nightclub district closed off on Friday and Saturday nights—has proven controversial since its inception in December. Some bar and restaurant owners in the area, initially supportive, now say the district is hampering business. And there are concerns the street closures to-date have made the area look like a ghostly police state—a far cry from the "street festival" atmosphere Hales' says he'd like to create.
Police, meanwhile, love the street closures, and contend crime is down since they began.
"The Old Town Neighborhood generates a high volume of calls for police service within the area between W Burnside and NW Everett on certain days and during certain hours, as well as the surrounding areas of this zone," Hales' ordinance reads. "Prior to the pilot street closure, police response to many of these calls was delayed by conflicts with vehicles."
Hales announced a couple weeks ago his intent to push an ordinance at a "town hall"-style meeting of business and neighborhood interests.
That meeting, the mayor said, was an opportunity for him to address concerns. But Hales' proposal for the district—he wants more food options and outdoor seating—did not appear to budge in the face of criticisms from neighbors and businesses.
That those criticisms dominated that discussion is not reflected in the ordinance, which reads: "The general consensus of feedback from the neighbors, community associations, businesses, and bar owners indicated that the majority of stakeholders are in favor of continuing the experiment with new ideas to improve the quality of life in the Oldtown/Chinatown Neighborhood, both in and around the entertainment district."
If the district extension is approved—and at least one commissioner has indicated to the Mercury a plan to go along with Hales' proposal—the notion of cost might be a flashpoint. The mayor has floated the idea of creating an assessment district, where Old Town neighbors would be taxed to help pay for upkeep. There's no indication, however, neighbors are amenable to that notion.