By Alexander Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
The 2000 census reported Skyway as the only majority-minority census designated place in Seattle while other areas, such as Bellevue, became majority-minority cities just recently.
However, Bellevue has prospered economically over the last decade, while Skyway’s growth has stagnated.
Skyway is an urban unincorporated area that borders Tukwila, Seattle, and Renton. It is unique in that a sizable majority of residents in this community of over 15,000 people are minorities. The racial composition of Skyway’s population is effectively evenly divided between whites, Asians, and Blacks, and a large percentage of residents are foreign-born.
According to the Skyway Coalition, an organization focused on equitable community development, the median income in Skyway is $45,000, which is significantly less than the overall average in King County. The Washington Employment Security Department considered part of Skyway to be an area of high unemployment as late as 2017. There are no brand name businesses located in Skyway.
Skyway’s reputation for being a hotbed for criminal activity has been an obstacle to its development. Reports of a major homicide or robbery that occurred in Skyway seem to be in the news every couple months.
Thao Nguyen was raised in Skyway. She is now the co-owner of the popular Lotte hair salon in Bellevue. Nguyen told Northwest Asian Weekly that she would love to open a branch for her salon in Skyway, but she has safety concerns.
“I love Skyway and its diversity is a major selling point for me. But businesses will only move to Skyway when it becomes safer and more attractive for entrepreneurship.”
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay also grew up in Skyway. In an interview with Northwest Asian Weekly, Zahilay indicated that investing in “upstream resources and opportunities for people most likely to participate in violence” would help reduce the crime rate in Skyway. Zahilay advocated for programs focused on housing stability, after-school activities, mentoring, and job training.
Skyway has potential to succeed economically like its neighboring cities. Romans Casino is the largest business located in Skyway and it reported over $15 million in gross revenue in the 2018 fiscal year. The success of Romans Casino shows that a business can excel in Skyway. The challenge is ensuring that Skyway’s residents will benefit from the commerce.
Jeremy Williams, board president of the West Hill Community Association and a member of the Skyway Coalition, said that local officials could do more for the people who call Skyway home.
“Overall, we have heard the story too many times of the county’s budget limitations. The services we want can be funded, in part, by creative funding mechanisms such as reallocating marijuana tax revenue directly to the community in which it was generated. Our elected officials must ensure Skyway is seeing the benefits of the tax revenue that is already being generated by our community.”
State officials have recently taken steps to address the economic challenges in Skyway. On April 28, 2018, Governor Jay Inslee designated part of Skyway as an Opportunity Zone (OZ).
The program provides incentives for businesses to expand in economically distressed communities, and allows for the deferral and elimination of some federal taxes on investments made in areas with a poverty rate of at least 20%. Skyway is one of 23 census tracts in King County to have received the OZ designation.
In a comment to Northwest Asian Weekly, Robert Haglund, a management analyst with the Employment and Security Department, suggested that OZs would lead to more real estate investment in Skyway.
Tom Luu, the owner of the Skyway Park Bowl bowling alley and the Lucky Dragonz events center located next to Romans Casino, told Northwest Asian Weekly that he hopes to build a new housing development in Skyway.
“Real estate projects will be really vital to Skyway’s future. We want more people to move to Skyway to support our local businesses. But they will only move here if they have a place to live.”
Zahilay is optimistic about the future of his hometown. He believes that the large minority community in Skyway is capable of coming together to make Skyway a better and safer place for its families and businesses.
“These coalitions are powerful and have been able to accomplish amazing things in our region. As someone who grew up in South Seattle and Skyway alongside Asian American communities, primarily Vietnamese, Chinese, and Filipino neighbors and friends, I know our fates are intertwined.”
Zahilay’s hope is that Skyway can prosper like other majority-minority communities without experiencing the gentrification that occurred in Columbia City. Displacement prevented long-time residents there from fully benefiting from its economic and safety improvements.
“We all want prosperity, safety, clean streets, and walkable neighborhoods for Skyway. I’m not saying we should avoid the direction of Columbia City in those respects. I’m saying thousands of people who call Skyway home today should be able to stay in their homes to enjoy those improvements rather than being displaced like in Columbia City of the Central District.”
Alexander can be reached at email@example.com.