Downtown Seattle

City will pay $15 million for waterfront businesses to close

City will pay $15 million for waterfront businesses to close
SEATTLE -- The City of Seattle is offering a multimillion dollar payoff to 15 business, but only if they promise to shut down during seawall construction.

As the city preps for construction, more than 1,000 waterfront workers are wondering what the payoff will mean for them.

A coalition of waterfront business owners say they will be looking out for their workers, but promises aren't always kept.

What is certain is that the seawall has to be replaced, and the quickest way to do that is to shut down the whole area.

For decades, Ivar's has been a top draw for both tourists and locals along the Seattle waterfront, but the popular eatery will be shut down next year. It's just one of roughly 15 businesses stretching from Pier 54 to Pier 57 that will close while the seawall is built.

Those closures could put roughly 1,100 people out of work.

"Me, personally, I don't really feel like I have anything to worry about," said Josh Allen, who works at Ivar's.

Allen said he trusts Ivar's management will find him work at one of the chain's other locations. The same can't be said for some of the smaller shops that will shutter.

"There's candy shops here, right around the corner, where we get our candy before our shifts," Allen said. "I don't know what they are going to do."

The city is giving the 15 businesses up to $15 million to voluntarily close while seawall construction is underway.

Even if the businesses stayed open, transportation planners say they would have spent that much anyway by building foot bridges and other access routes through the construction area.

"The $15 million cap was actually arrived at by what was the realistic, maximum savings we could have in the project by removing that access," said Jessica Murphy, the Seattle Department of Transportation's seawall project manager.

Some of the business owners say closing for construction will help all parties.

"By us closing for those nine months, the project will get done quicker and less expensively," said Ivar's president Bob Donegan.

But not all the businesses in the area are on board for the closure. Argosy Cruises, the Great Wheel and the Seattle Aquarium will remain open during construction. Aquarium officials say they're still sorting out how the whole thing will work.

"We're really working closely with all those folks to make sure we have parking options, transportation and accessibility to get to us, because we will remain open," said aquarium spokesman Tim Kuniholm.

Both the city and the impacted businesses agree the $15 million payday is a win-win, but the 1,100 employees are being asked to put faith in a plan that offers them no clear guarantees.

"Our goal is we don't want anybody to lose their job," Donegan said.

The business owners say the city's money probably won't completely offset their losses, but they say it's a fair deal that will keep most of them afloat until the construction wraps up.