Downtown Seattle in mayoral debate highlight as candidates more likely to pontificate on tech hub’s future

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Seattle mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell, left, and Lorena Gonzalez. (Images via campaign websites)

The future of downtown Seattle could be in the spotlight tonight — alongside Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez — as the two mayoral candidates face off in their first debate ahead of the Nov. 2 election, with a focus on the economy and business.

The city’s urban core and its continued viability as a tech hub has been impacted by a number of factors over the past couple years, not the least of which is the COVID-19 pandemic that turned thousands of office tech workers into remote workers. How many of those workers will return and for how many days a week? What will a hybrid workforce split between the office and home mean for the city’s economy and the small businesses that rely on those workers?

The city’s homelessness crisis and concerns around public safety and how both issues impact businesses from South Lake Union to Pioneer Square are also expected be front and center on Thursday night.

Hosted by Seattle CityClub and the Washington State Debate Coalition, the debate is free and virtual and starts at 7 p.m. PT.

Concerns about the future of work and impacts on the city are especially timely this week as Amazon again shifted plans related to its more than 50,000 corporate and tech employees in Seattle. The tech giant had most recently been planning to bring workers back on Jan. 3, 2022, with an “office-centric baseline” of three days a week in the office and two days remote. But Monday Amazon announced that it would leave the decisions to individual team leaders, with no expectation around the number of days that those employees will work in the office.

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GeekWire visited the South Lake Union and Denny Triangle neighborhoods around Amazon’s headquarters this week and talked with several small business owners about the impact all those missing tech workers is having on business.

In advance of the debate and the election, put together a series of short videos for four races on the ballot. The organization, which works to connect tech sector employees with civic life, focuses on issues such as housing affordability, climate change, transportation infrastructure and digital equity. One “Meet the Candidates” video specifically gets to the issue of the future of work and downtown Seattle:

Gonzalez, the current Seattle City Council president, says in the video that she thinks office work has forever been changed by the pandemic.

“That means looking at vacant buildings for child care centers, and it means looking at empty buildings for micro-enterprise opportunities and making those spaces commercially affordable,” she said. “And it also means making sure that we are looking at how we are planning for a city that includes employment hubs within neighborhoods and not just downtown.”

RELATED: Remote work already changing Seattle permanently, tech worker survey indicates

Harrell, a former council president, said “together we will redefine what should downtown look like, realizing many of these brick-and-mortar institutions will not come back.” He added that downtown has to be “a place that is activated, that is safe, that all can enjoy” and stressed the need for such things as cleanliness, strong and effective public safety and unbiased policing.

Both candidates previously sat down, virtually, with GeekWire for a conversation about tech, remote work, challenges facing Seattle and more.

The video also features King County Executive Dow Constantine and his challenger Joe Nguyen; City Council Position 9 candidates Nikkita Oliver and Sara Nelson; and city attorney candidates Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davison.

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