Downtown Seattle in the spotlight of mayors’ debate as candidates are likely to ring on the future of the tech hub

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, in focusing on economics and business.

The city’s urban core and its continued viability as a technology hub have been affected by a number of factors over the past two years, not the least of which is the COVID-19 pandemic that has transformed thousands. from office workers to teleworkers. How many of these workers will return and for how many days per week? What will a hybrid office-home workforce mean for the city’s economy and the small businesses that depend on these workers?

The city’s homelessness crisis and concerns about public safety and the impact of the two issues on businesses from South Lake Union to Pioneer Square are also expected to come to the fore on Thursday night.

Hosted by Seattle CityClub and the Washington State Debate Coalition, the debate is free and virtual and begins at 7:00 p.m. PT.

Concerns about the future of work and the impacts on the city are particularly topical this week as Amazon once again tweaks plans related to its more than 50,000 business and tech employees in Seattle. The tech giant recently planned to bring workers back on Jan.3, 2022, with a “desktop-centric baseline” of three days a week at the office and two days remotely. But on Monday, Amazon said it would leave decisions to individual team leaders, with no expectations as to how many days those employees will work in the office.

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

Prior to the debate and the election, sea.citi prepared a series of short videos for four races on the ballot. The organization, which strives to connect tech workers to civic life, focuses on issues such as housing affordability, climate change, transportation infrastructure and digital equity. A “Meet the Candidates” video specifically addresses the issue of the future of work and downtown Seattle:

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

“It means examining vacant buildings for day care centers, and it means examining empty buildings for micro-business opportunities and making those spaces commercially affordable,” she said. “And that also means making sure we take a look at how we plan for a city that includes employment hubs in neighborhoods and not just downtown.”

RELATED: Remote working is already changing Seattle for good, according to survey of tech workers

Harrell, a former chairman of the board, said “together we will redefine what downtown should look like, realizing that many of these brick and mortar institutions are not coming back.” He added that the city center must be “an energized, safe place for all to enjoy” and stressed the need for things such as cleanliness, strong and efficient public safety and impartial police services.

The two contestants previously sat, virtually, with GeekWire for a conversation about technology, remote working, the challenges Seattle faces and more.

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

Sea.citi has also produced a guide for candidates.