Mar 13, 2024 - News

Tourism is booming in Seattle, but downtown recovery lags

Illustration of a Black woman's hands holding the city of Seattle.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Downtown Seattle is thriving by some measures — such as out-of-town visitors and a growing residential population — but other numbers show the city struggling to recover from the pandemic and grappling with a drug crisis, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Average weekday worker foot traffic downtown increased 33% to 80,000 last year over 2022, but that's still only 51% of pre-pandemic levels, per an analysis by the Downtown Seattle Association, a business advocacy group.

By the numbers: As of this January, 31 construction projects were underway downtown and 106,000 residents called the core home, said DSA president Jon Scholes at the annual "state of downtown" event at the Seattle Convention Center last week.

Other highlights from DSA and the report:

  • A record 1.7 million passengers passed through downtown on 291 sailings during the cruise season last year.
  • Seattle welcomed nearly 3.5 million visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a post-pandemic high.
  • The Seattle Convention Center brought in 75 new conventions, surpassing 2019's count by 27%.

Reality check: In 2023, there were 143 overdose deaths in the downtown core, a 46% increase from the previous year, per DSA.

Visits to downtown from locals who live within 10 miles of the core are down to half of pre-pandemic numbers, said Scholes, and DSA data shows retail jobs at brick-and-mortar stores are down 19% percent from 2010.

  • At 18%, the office vacancy rate is below the national rate but is downtown's highest rate in two decades, per DSA figures.

What they're saying: "While we've made progress on reducing violent crime in our downtown, misery and suffering driven by the fentanyl crisis is way up on the streets of downtown," Scholes said.

What we're watching: Seattle City Council President Sara Nelson told attendees that council members and staff are working from the office.

  • She said she is working to update the city's return-to-work policy with the goal of getting more city workers back downtown.

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