U District Partnership and Department of Commerce announce $5 million investment in U District small businesses
We’re pleased to share this announcement from the U District Partnership:
Announcement unveiled over 140 small business facade and facility improvements in the U District.
Seattle – This morning, The U District Partnership and Washington State Department of
Commerce unveiled an unprecedented series of investments in Seattle’s University District.
Small businesses up and down University Way NE and across the neighborhood have received a
total of $5 million in funding, enabling them to make hundreds of one-time strategic investments
that will have lasting impacts for their appearance and operations, as well as for the U District.
“Students and professors will feel like they are returning to an entirely new neighborhood this fall
quarter with bright new facades and signage now adorning their favorite businesses along the
Ave,” said Don Blakeney, Executive Director of the U District Partnership. “These grants have been
a once-in-a-generation chance to catalyze investment and build momentum for one of Seattle’s
most dynamic neighborhoods.”
Earlier this year, the Washington State Department of Commerce released a couple of rounds of
one-time ARPA dollars, with the express aim of helping small businesses that were impacted by
the pandemic and owned by women and people of color. This $5 million commitment has
enabled The U District Partnership to issue grants to 140 small business owners, who in turn,
were able to make hundreds of important investments in their facilities, and customer-facing
assets, like signage, lighting, exterior paint and windows. Each business was eligible to receive
up to $200,000 in funding for any eligible improvements made after February 29, 2020.
“Small businesses define the unique character of each of our downtown neighborhoods and
provide opportunities to build generational wealth for many families,” said Commerce Director
Mike Fong. “The spirit of optimism and resilience these business owners show every day
strengthens communities. As they navigate challenging conditions in the post-pandemic
economy, we are committed to supporting pathways to success through a spectrum of services at
every stage, from startup through equitable access to working capital for growth.”
The U District represents one of Seattle’s highest-concentration of small businesses owned by
women and people of color. Of the 141 business owners who received grant funding, 86%
percent were owned by women and/or people of color. Also, because many of these businesses
are food-service oriented, they were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic.
“After operating in the U District for seven years, this grant has been a game changer. This funding
will prepare me for the next seven and beyond,” says Lois Ko, owner of Sweet Alchemy. “Even just
adding the word “espresso” onto my new awning immediately doubled our coffee business.”
“It was incredibly inspiring to see the impact these grants were able to make across our
community,” shared Daniel Lokic, Economic Development Manager for the U District Partnership.
“Not only did this funding enhance storefront facades and allow businesses to purchase critical
equipment – it provided the opportunity for businesses to invest in outdoor dining structures,
increasing seating capacity and extending their brand into the public realm.”
Over twenty businesses utilized their grant funding to implement public and private outdoor
dining options. This includes $500,000+ of investments in permitting, design, and financial
assistance which increased outdoor seating capacity by 450+ seats and spurred the
construction of 10 outdoor dining structures in the public realm.
The City of Seattle has also played a key role in the implementation of these grant-funded
projects, and in the overall revitalization of the U District. The Seattle Department of
Transportation (SDOT) and Office of Permitting and Construction (OPCD) worked closely
together with small business owners to ensure they could complete their projects quickly to
comply with the constraints of the funding.
“Seattle’s small businesses help create a vibrant local economy and are critical to building thriving
neighborhoods and creating generational wealth. This funding and support from the Washington
State Department of Commerce will make a big difference for U District small businesses,” said
Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. “This is a smart, strategic investment that will complement our
efforts and shared commitment to giving entrepreneurs and small businesses, particularly those
owned by women and people of color, the tools to build growing and successful enterprises.”
Additionally, the City’s Office of Economic Development (OED) has invested in other economic
revitalization strategies including $215,000 in funding to support outdoor dining, commercial
corridor tree lighting, activation, capacity building and a broken window repair pilot program. The
City’s Office of Arts and Culture also supplied key funding this year that enabled UDP to support
programming initiatives for thirteen U District arts and culture organizations.
“Teamwork makes the dream work, and that’s especially true when the public sector works
together to support our small businesses. UDP’s on-the-ground leadership plus investments
from the City and the state have helped our incredible small, diverse businesses thrive in the U
District. This is an exciting example of the impact of collaboration and partnership to meet the
needs of our local businesses,” shared Markham McIntyre, Director Seattle Office of
Once the economic center for north Seattle, the U District faced steep competition in recent
decades from popular car-friendly shopping destinations like Northgate and University Village.
With the recent addition of a heavily-used light rail station, and with over 1,500 housing units
coming online and more under construction, the U District is seeing a renaissance unlike
anywhere else in Seattle today.
A series of short videos have been produced to illustrate the impact that this grant has had on
small businesses in the U District. Two of these short videos can be found here:
● Bulldog Cafe: https://youtu.be/q6vQdyc1cZ8
● Saint Bread: https://youtu.be/X6dUAXseVuA
Facts and Figures About The Grant
These investments made possible by the Washington State Department of Commerce were able
to have a large impact in one of Seattle’s fastest growing neighborhoods:
● 141 total U District businesses received grant funding this year.
● 86% of the U District businesses who received funding are Woman- (51%) and/or BIPOC-
● 69% of businesses awarded are food/bev; 23% are retail.
● The average award amount for tenant improvement grants was $34,359.94.
● Over 20 businesses were awarded funds to build outdoor dining structures and seating
areas, creating a total of over 450 new outdoor dining seats in the U District.
Grant Improvements on Display at U District $4 Food Walk, Saturday September 30
To showcase the new storefront improvements, The U District Partnership is hosting the Third
Annual U District $4 Food Walk on Saturday, September 30, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. – a food
festival that will feature $4 bites from over 70 different U District businesses. More information
about this event can be found at udistrictseattle.com/foodwalk.
About the Urban Vitality Grant Program
The U District Vitality Grant program provided funding for ground-floor businesses and nonprofit
organizations in the U District to invest in cleaning and/or fixed asset improvements such as
remodeling, renovating, upgrading and purchasing specialized equipment. The aim of this
one-time funding is to support competitiveness, sustainability, customer attraction, and revenue
generation for businesses/organizations currently operating in/expanding/relocating to the U
District. A total pool of $4.85 million was made available thanks to the Washington State
Department of Commerce’ Small Business Innovation Fund (SBIFF) with the explicit aim of
supporting small, BIPOC-, and Woman-owned businesses.
About the Small Business Innovation Fund (SBIF)
In November of 2022, the Washington State Department of Commerce awarded 22 Small
Business Innovation Fund (SBIF) grants ranging from $500,000 to $5 million to nonprofit,
community based organizations focused on BIPOC initiatives to spur economic recovery efforts
state-wide. The total $32.5 million in grants awarded funded new, creative and innovative
projects including small business incubators and accelerators, support for local procurement
initiatives, improvements to physical workspaces in response to public health requirements or
acts of vandalism, support for small business competitiveness programs focused on hiring and
retention, and projects that increase the ability of a small business to succeed and thrive. The
Small Business Innovation Fund supports community-based programs and services that meet
the needs of BIPOC entrepreneurs, women-owned small businesses, and businesses located in
underserved, low-income and rural parts of the state.
About the U District Partnership
The U District Partnership (UDP) is the lead economic development organization that works to
improve and promote Seattle’s U District. In addition to providing economic development
services, UDP oversees neighborhood cleaning, safety, and homeless outreach teams and
coordinates marketing and events for the U District. UDP also advocates on behalf of its
constituents with respect to a host of public policy, planning, and quality‐of‐life issues. For more
information about the U District Partnership, please visit udistrictpartnership.org.
Don Blakeney, Executive Director, U District Partnership
email@example.com | (206) 399-8194
Polly Yokokawa, Marketing & Communications Manager, U District Partnership
firstname.lastname@example.org | (503) 754-4800
Today The U District Partnership and Washington State