West Seattle Chamber leaders: Eyes on the big picture


If you don’t know them already, meet Dawn Leverett and Patti Mullen — board president and executive director, respectively, of the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce. As changes aplenty propel West Seattle into a bigger, busier future, they are among the key people looking at “the big picture” and fighting to ensure WS is more than a bedroom community whose residents have to squeeze through a worsening bottleneck to work and shop elsewhere. WSB sat down with them both a few days ago for an in-depth chat:

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

For some people outside the business community, the phrase “Chamber of Commerce” may only ring a distant bell as something you would see on signs welcoming people to a town or neighborhood. Certainly the West Seattle Chamber has a “welcoming” role — its lobby at 3614 California (map) is stocked with brochures for area attractions, and its leaders would love to have an official Information Center — but right now, a more urgent task dominates the landscape: Grow West Seattle’s business community so there are more jobs and more shopping options for the peninsula’s booming population.

If you haven’t paid a ton of attention to that boom, let’s bring back a map we created last week after the latest megaproject (BlueStar‘s Gateway Center at the old Huling Buick showroom site) was announced – each of these dots represents a site either under development, proposed for development, or up for sale:

View Larger Map

And that’s only what’s on the drawing boards (or up for sale) in the Junction/”Triangle” areas (we haven’t even put together our maps for Alki, Admiral, east West Seattle, south West Seattle yet, but rest assured, they too will be dot-laden).

As we have documented extensively here on WSB in our past 2-plus years of existence, it’s happening all over West Seattle — an old single-family home comes down, 4 (or more) townhouses go up; an old business site gets sold, a mixed-use building with dozens or even hundreds of apartments/condos goes up. And eastbound every morning, westbound every afternoon, The Bridge moves like molasses. (And of course, that’s even before The Viaduct’s central section comes down as promised in four years.)

The solution? More jobs and more retail in West Seattle, so we don’t have to leave — or at least, don’t have to leave as often. West Seattle Chamber of Commerce executive director Patti Mullen has an example she uses often — if a man wants to buy a necktie, unless he can find something acceptable at Target, he has to go downtown (or to Southcenter). And that’s just one example, though she and Chamber President Dawn Leverett find it an exhilarating time as well — Mullen says the sales pitch for businesses considering West Seattle has some key points:

The Chamber of Commerce’s brainstorming about retail and jobs didn’t start with the current development boom, of course, but it made matters more urgent. Last November, the Chamber gathered a group for “future visioning,” with the help of South Seattle Community College — which is growing ever-more important as a key West Seattle institution — and the Pacific Institute. That was just the first step toward creating a mission/vision statement for West Seattle as a whole — the first draft includes “We support progressive development that preserves public access and natural areas.”

As wonderful a place as this is to live, it doesn’t sell itself in all aspects. And the Chamber doesn’t have its own army to extensively pursue prospects — its paid staff totals exactly one and a half people. Board members are volunteers who do a lot to boost West Seattle prospects, but they can’t go it alone either; key components in success are participation from the greater community, not just the nearly 300 businesses that belong to the Chamber. As Leverett puts it, “West Seattle has to slug it out – be loud and proud.”

To get a glimpse of the competition that’s out there for visitors, jobs, and businesses beyond downtown Seattle and the usual areas, take a look at the new Seattle Southside campaign, which Mullen and Leverett were discussing when we arrived for our interview the other day. Cities in south King County — immediately south of the unincorporated area that may or may not become part of Seattle someday — have joined forces to aggressively compete for business and tourism, including Burien, Normandy Park, Des Moines, and Seatac, and they put on a forum last week.

Not to be outdone, the West Seattle Chamber has events in the works too, in particular the Business Expo coming up May 31 at South Seattle Community College; signups continue for sponsors and vendors, and workshops are being organized; when we talked with Mullen and Leverett, a spot was still open for some kind of pet-related breakout demonstration. Before then, the Chamber’s annual Awards Breakfast happens next week — 7:30 am April 9 at Salty’s — honoring Tom’s Automotive as the Business of the Year and honoring Warren Lawless with the Community Service Award.

But the real meat of the works is in the everyday efforts. “It’s time to be organized and make headway in shaping our future,” says Mullen. “The fallout from not being involved is what’s scary.”

She has been with the West Seattle Chamber for almost five years, and has lived in Seattle for 25 years — West Seattle for all but seven of those years; she moved to Morgan Junction from Alki a year ago.

She and Leverett have Southern roots in common — Mullen’s hometown is Tulsa, Oklahoma, while Leverett is originally from Dallas. She is in her fifth year on the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce board, the first year as president, and works as a Realtor with Windermere, where she is in her eighth year; her previous career was with American Airlines, where she trained flight crews in emergency procedures — that included crews who didn’t work for AA, even Air Force One crews at one point.

Keeping cool under pressure is a helpful trait for any line of work, including the effort it takes to promote West Seattle with big ideas and small resources. The Chamber’s 1.5 paid staff members “do the work of five people,” Leverett quips.

Much of that work is to coordinate information so that others can do their work better, says Mullen: “Our primary objective is to educate. Any organization that truly is of service wants to make information available.”

A lot of that happens quietly, outside the public events you can track by checking frequently on the Chamber’s website (wschamber.com). Chamber leaders talk with the developers who come into West Seattle, to advocate for community needs such as the jobs and wider retail variety mentioned sooner; we reported to you last week about one such meeting, at which Conner Homes reps met Chamber and West Seattle Junction Association leaders for a briefing on the project it’s relaunched at California/Alaska/42nd. As Leverett puts it, “I know people know we’re involved with development, but not sure they understand how much we work with developers to answer their questions about what the community wants and needs. … We’re trying to build a West Seattle that residents wouldn’t have to leave.”

And it’s not all about the $. Mullen is passionate about the environment — putting some teeth behind the current buzzword “sustainability.” Earlier this month, we told you about one of the informal “Sustainable Storm” brainstorming brown-bags at the Chamber office; the Chamber vision is not just for a successful West Seattle, but also for a West Seattle that can lead the way in combining sustainability with successful commerce.

To do all that, the Chamber needs all the membership might it can muster. It’s expecting record growth this year, but beyond its membership of nearly 300, there are hundreds more businesses in operation in West Seattle. (Here at WSB, incidentally, our business is a West Seattle Chamber of Commerce member as of last week.) One of its webpages lists the 10 reasons to join; talking with Mullen and Leverett, you’d probably find a hundred more. If you want to find out more about the Chamber and how to get involved with its push to make sure West Seattleites are partners in growth, not bystanders (or worse, roadkill) — you can e-mail info@wschamber.com for starters.

6 Replies to "West Seattle Chamber leaders: Eyes on the big picture"

  • Jack Loblaw March 31, 2008 (10:01 pm)

    I have a couple of things to mention to the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce: Fix your web site so that I can find West Seattle businesses !!! If the Chamber is in business to help businesses then help them and give people like me who want a West Seattle business a place to find one. The second thing is to tell the business members to quit rolling up the sidewalks at 6pm. I work for a living and if I need to go shopping when I get home I have to go to Westwood or worse yet Southcenter. ( Recently we have been sneaking off to Bellevue Square due to the crime issues at Southcenter ).

  • WSB March 31, 2008 (10:10 pm)

    JL, interesting point on the hours of operation. Junior Member of Team and I had something to shop for one night last week … it was so light outside, we lost track of time, and we didn’t even notice it was past 6 pm when we got to the Junction store where we were hoping to buy what we were looking for – they had closed. Luckily, another store in the same line of business three doors down didn’t close till 7, and we found what we were looking for there.

  • Near Alki April 1, 2008 (5:58 am)

    So sad, so true West Seattle nightlife is a misnomer.

  • Paul April 1, 2008 (9:08 am)

    As a small business owner, sometimes we do have to close early for personal issues/reasons. But we do remain open on the weekends for our working customers, and we will be there at any time a customer requests. We value our West Seattle customers highly!

  • MsBette April 1, 2008 (11:50 am)

    My concern about new businesses – jobs – coming in WS is that they bring employees from outside of WS, and therefore increase traffic at commute times, and these employees decide to move to WS, increasing the population here. Then those of us looking forward to retiring and enjoying our WS will have a mini-metropolis instead of a hometown we thought we were going to have. If only we could have Lesser West Seattle!

  • WS Business Owner April 14, 2008 (9:22 pm)

    I have lived in WS for 14 yrs, run a consulting business located in WS for 13 yrs, and buy WS whenever possible. I wish my fellow neighbors that work downtown and shop regionally had supported the monorail. As noted, many WS merchants run their businesses for the daytimer and not the worker that would like to spend their monies locally (meaning weekday after 6pm). I think that WS could use a few name brand stores as well as regional/local stores so that we dont have to vist Westwood Village, Southcenter and Bellevue. While I am not a fan of chains, to really be sustainable, we will need a few and more diverse restaurants. It would even be nice have a mini-mall (Pacific Place type, with theater, and some upscale stores). I use Pacific Place as an example as the underground parking makes this easy to access. The Triangle would be the perfect location for such a resource. All development MUST mandate 1.5 times current parking standards. Not even Jefferson Square has adquate parking, as people dont use the downstairs parking and the vertical transition between floors is not easy. Parking in the Junction has become impossible causing many to leave on weekends in favor Bellevue Sq.

Sorry, comment time is over.