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Originally published Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM


Global-health jobs, transportation projects to strengthen downtown Seattle, group says

The Downtown Seattle Association's president sees "bright spots" that she says will help downtown recover from the recession.

Seattle Times business reporter

Downtown Seattle, like almost everyplace else, took its economic lumps in 2008.

Washington Mutual disappeared. Other prominent employers laid off workers. Office and retail vacancy rates grew. The new-construction pipeline started to dry up.

Those discouraging developments were dutifully noted at the Downtown Seattle Association's annual "State of Downtown" economic forum Tuesday.

But association President Kate Joncas devoted much of her address to what she called the "bright spots" that downtown can build on as the economy recovers.

Among them:

• The emerging global-health industry, led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute and others. It's expected to add 2,400 more research and support jobs locally by 2012, Joncas said, and more than 1 million square feet of health-related office and lab space is under construction in greater downtown.

• Transportation. Completion this summer of Sound Transit's first light-rail segment, voter approval last fall of an ambitious rail expansion and the recent agreement to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a bored tunnel all bode well for downtown, Joncas said.

Protecting transportation services and projects from cutbacks as governments grapple with budget deficits should be a priority, she added.

• Sports. Seattle may have lost the SuperSonics, but "soccer is going to be huge," Joncas said.

The expansion team Seattle Sounders FC has sold more than 20,000 season tickets. The team's first match March 19 at Qwest Field will be broadcast on ESPN. "We're going to be on television around the world," Joncas said.

• Tourism and conventions. More cruise ships called on Seattle in 2008 than ever before. The Washington State Convention & Trade Center will host a record number of conventions this year, and Joncas said it's one of just four convention centers in the country that operates in the black. "We're turning away more business than we're booking," said Tom Norwalk, president of Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, who participated in a panel at Tuesday's forum.

Legislative approval of a tax extension to expand the convention center is a top priority for the Downtown Seattle Association, Joncas said. She called the proposal "a great economic stimulus plan for downtown" and said it's a signal the group plans to stay busy during the recession.

"We are not going to roll ourselves up in a ball and die," she said.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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