By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
More than 30 community members showed up for a meeting at the American Hotel on Monday to discuss economic development priorities and funding opportunities for the Chinatown/International District. The meeting was the first of three.
The City of Seattle, through the Office of Economic Development (OED), is partnering with Impact Capital to make approximately $1 million available for the Only in Seattle Initiative.
This initiative provides grant funding and staff support to foster neighborhood business districts that allow small businesses to grow and flourish, make a positive contribution to the city’s economic health, reflect the unique character of the neighborhoods, and contribute to their vitality.
Since Chinatown/International District is one of the eligible neighborhoods for a grant for up to $200,000, the Seattle Chinatown/International District Preservation Development Association (SCIDpda) is working together with community members to gather input and collect ideas on how to finalize the grant application.
The meeting was hosted by the SCIDpda and facilitated by Joyce Pisnanont, SCIDpda’s IDEA Space manager, with help from Tuck Eng of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association.
Community members gathered to learn more about OED’s funding priorities and to understand how the community’s priorities align with the neighborhood’s needs.
Brainstorming sessions were also held for people to express their ideas for improving the Chinatown/International District. Theresa Barreras of OED showed up briefly to answer questions that the audience had about applying for the grant.
When asked about the criterion used to determine the recipients of the grant, Barreras encouraged the audience to figure out a way to make the neighborhood thrive and to come up with the best ideas on how to execute that.
“I’d really love to see the community leading this and figure out a way to show the community working together to make it better,” Barreras said.
She also added that she doesn’t want to limit the possibilities of what the neighborhood is willing to do to improve the area.
Some questions were asked about the geographic breadth of the neighborhood, such as if the three different areas of Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon would qualify for their own separate grants. Barreras said that, for a competitive proposal, it would be better to show the different aspects of the neighborhood as a whole, rather than working within boundaries.
Before the large group broke into smaller groups to discuss priorities and strategies for the neighborhood grant application, Pisnanont went around the room collecting feedback.
The audience was asked to complete the following statement, “By the end of 2011, the neighborhood will be better because …”
A plethora of responses was enthusiastically thrown out by the crowd. Most wanted to see cleaner, safer, and better maintained streets, more parking availability, elimination of graffiti and vandalism, increased promotional events in the neighborhood, and many others. The overall consensus was that they wanted to see the Chinatown/ID as a more attractive area for visitors and residents to shop, eat, and stay.
The small groups then discussed their top priorities for economic revitalization. An important element to improving the neighborhood is the physical appearance and aesthetics of the area. In order to achieve the unified vision, some people mentioned that putting up seasonal or country banners on the lamp posts would create a more distinguished look.
Safety cameras at intersections and hot spots would increase the safety and comfort of the pedestrians. Neighborhood clean-ups and increased block watch duties would also add to the revitalization of the Chinatown/ID.
“There’s a lot that we can learn from Pioneer Square as a historical district to create buzz in the revitalization process of our neighborhood,” Pisnanont said.
Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), feels that the neighborhood is in a good position for the grant because “all the right people are in the room, and they all want the same thing.”
Pisnanont said that she would volunteer to take the lead on writing the proposal, if necessary.
After the meeting, she said she planned on formatting and inserting the information from the meeting into the grant application and sending it to the community members to review.
The next meeting will be held on Dec. 6 in conjunction with the community forum at Helping Link in Little Saigon. Participants will confirm community priorities and discuss organizational structure and funding requirements for achieving those priorities. ♦
Nina Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.