Belltown: The Model Neighborhood?

The mayor's office's silly idea about what constitutes crime-fighting.

Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith says the city has a model for cleaning up crime along downtown's Third Avenue. That model, he told The Seattle Times recently, is . . . Belltown? Really?

We're talking about a neighborhood so renowned for open-air drug dealing that last spring a coffee-shop owner penned a letter to dealers suggesting a "containment zone" where they could push their wares in peace—and in one place. A neighborhood that for at least two decades has drawn complaints about crime from business owners and residents.

Smith contends that something has changed over the past three months. In the Times' paraphrase, "The city has enlisted the business community, social-service providers, city department leaders, and the police to address issues in a more coordinated way."

It's been quite a long time since Seattle Weekly had its offices in Belltown, so we asked some denizens of the neighborhood whether a miraculous transformation has indeed taken place.

Tim Buckley, proprietor of the bar that shares his last name, gave a common response: laughter. "This is about the worst I've ever seen it," he said. "I've been broken into five times in the last year"—most recently about three months ago, when the thieves smashed his windows and grabbed five cases of liquor.

Buckley said he's seen no improvement since. Indeed, he says, there's an open invitation for anyone who thinks different to sit in front of his bar's bay windows overlooking Battery Street around 3 in the morning. With the drug dealing and the prostitutes, he says, "it's a jungle."

Peter Lamb, a partner in Belltown restaurant Branzino, doesn't think it's that bad. But he still says the neighborhood is populated by "literally dozens and dozens of small-time drug dealers." Ditto, says the realtor who declines to give her name because she sells properties in Belltown, but who feels unsafe walking around there at night.

So if the city hasn't solved Belltown's crime problem, how is it a model? Smith couldn't be reached for comment, but Tim Gaydos, a pastor at Mars Hill Church and president of the Belltown Business Association, explains what the deputy mayor is likely talking about. Over the past few months, Gaydos says he's been participating in monthly meetings with representatives from an array of city departments. Each has talked about what it could do to alleviate Belltown's crime problem and revitalize its street life.

The parks department, for instance, is creating a new park along Bell Street. "It's going to bring in a lot more good businesses, like sidewalk cafes," Gaydos says. City Light has also worked on making sure streetlights are lit with long-lasting bulbs, according to Gaydos.

And the police department has stepped up morning patrols. SPD's Sean Whitcomb confirms that two extra officers are patrolling the streets three days a week from 5 to 10 a.m., a period in which the department often gets complaints about drug dealing. "It's not a big thing," Whitcomb says, but "arrests are up."

None of which is to say that Belltown has witnessed a dramatic turnaround, Gaydos concedes. "If you look at where we were two years ago, it was like we were on the five-yard line," he says, comparing progress to a football game. "Now we're moving the ball up the field."

Other apparent locals are less charitable, however. Said one sarcastic commenter, who identified himself as the owner of a local gym: "Thank you, Deputy Mayor, for longer-lasting lightbulbs. So sad."

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