Street Activation - What & Why

People lined up at a restaurant order window along the sidewalk.

What's Happening Now?

Like many other cities, Seattle is experiencing economic challenges in the post-pandemic period.  Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan aims to revitalize Seattle’s downtown core neighborhoods as a safe and vibrant shopping, cultural/entertainment, employment, and residential destination. See the Downtown Activation Plan webpage for more information. SDCI’s Street Activation proposal is one of the proposed actions in the Mayor’s plan.

SDCI is proposing legislation to add more flexibility to the Land Use Code to help fill empty spaces in existing buildings. The current code restricts the range of uses allowed at street level and on second floors in several parts of Downtown, Uptown, and South Lake Union. These restrictions limit the types of tenants that can occupy vacant street-level spaces.

By allowing more variety in uses and increased flexibility in design and layout in the first two building floors, we can encourage filling vacant spaces by expanding the pool of potential tenants. This will help activate streets and increase eyes on the street for greater pedestrian comfort.

The legislation would apply these interim provisions for three years.

The proposal would not apply to Chinatown/International District and Pioneer Square, where current rules already provide flexibility that fits with their historic districts’ character.

Wider Variety of Uses at First and Second Floors

This proposal would renew the interim code flexibility (first approved in 2021) for tenants in street-level spaces, for a 3-year period. This will apply to several streets with active street-level use requirements in Downtown, Uptown, and South Lake Union. The types of uses that are allowed under this proposal are:

  • Offices, meeting rooms, and shared work spaces
  • Medical offices and services
  • Research and development laboratories
  • Community centers and institutions (except hospitals)
  • Gyms
  • Art facilities and museums
  • Food processing/craft work and horticultural uses
  •  Non-household sales and service (such as restaurant supply stores)

Reduced Minimum Depth of Street-Level Uses

The proposal reduces the required minimum depth of spaces/store-fronts at street-level  (currently 15 or 30 feet) to 8 feet.  This would encourage small-scale food vending shops, and other varieties of creative retail opportunities that cannot occur today.

Encourage Activating Uses on First and Second Floors in Existing and New Development

The proposal gives more flexibility for existing street-level spaces to be remodeled or expanded, including adding mezzanine floors or second-floor spaces. Current rules in Downtown penalize or prevent these spaces by counting them against floor area density limits. The proposal would lift this restriction in more areas of Downtown (as it already is in the retail core), and in certain corridors in Uptown and South Lake Union. Removing this restriction would give more flexibility to design creative spaces that could attract businesses like destination restaurant and specialty retail stores.

This restriction would also be lifted for future new development for first and second floor spaces. This proposal would remove code barriers and encourage a wider variety of uses that would be people-centric. As a result, it would generate additional activity and attractions in a majority of Downtown and parts of Uptown and South Lake Union.

If you have any questions, please contact:

Gordon Clowers
Senior Planner, SDCI 

Project Benefits

The proposed Street Activation is part of the Downtown Activation Plan, a coordinated strategy that supports economic recovery in Downtown by making code requirements more flexible and more responsive to today’s needs. This proposal will create new development and business opportunities for Downtown, and enhance Downtown amenities and attractiveness.

The End Result

The Downtown Activation Plan reinforces Downtown’s roles as an active and inviting hub for the region’s economy, tourism, and daily living. It will help stimulate new growth that builds on our strengths as the pre-eminent city in the Pacific Northwest.

Construction and Inspections

Nathan Torgelson, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 684-8600
Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
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SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.