Target is coming to downtown Seattle, and, if the hype is to be believed, the arrival of the retail giant symbolizes the transformation of the


Target: Cheap-Chic or the Solution to Downtown Seattle's Drug Problem?

Target is coming to downtown Seattle, and, if the hype is to be believed, the arrival of the retail giant symbolizes the transformation of the Pike/Pine corridor from a haven for junkies and hustlers to a fully gentrified neighborhood with an ample supply of trendy-yet-affordable consumer goods.

At least that's the notion expressed in a recent Seattle Times story heralding Target's arrival to Second Avenue, between Pike and Union streets. The Minnesota-based chain is introducing a slimmed-down version of its suburban big box stores rebranded as CityTarget. The difference, we're told, is that CityTarget sells 8-pound bags of dog food, as opposed to the 20-pound bags stocked by regular stores. Or something.

Also, Target is apparently kyrptonite drugs and crime:

Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, said Target's arrival is the latest result of a years-long effort to clean up the Pike-Pine corridor.

The area, which once housed a needle exchange for heroin addicts, now includes a Hard Rock Café, luxury condominiums and renovated office buildings. A block from the new Target, Ariel Development of Seattle plans to buy the historic Eitel Building and convert its mostly empty offices into a hotel.

"Little by little, property owners have been making investments and putting new tenants in," Joncas said. "Having Target there means that corner is never going back to the way it was."

Of course, anybody who takes a stroll through the stretch of downtown where Target will be quickly realizes the heroin addicts and their dealers haven't gone anywhere. They may not be nodding off in front of Newmark tower, but they're certainly still at the bus stops at Third and Pike/Pine, or mingling with tourists in Steinbrueck Park. A look at SPD's 911 incident response map shows multiple calls for narcotics, suspicious persons, harassment, and other sundry shadiness in the area in just the last two days.

As for the needle exchange mentioned in the Times' story, it merely relocated a few blocks down the street to Fourth and Blanchard in Belltown. Frank Chaffee, manager of the city's HIV prevention program, says they switched locations to save on rent and get more space to expand their (invaluable) services like substance abuse treatment referrals and wound care for people with abscessed spike marks.

"The demand [for needles] didn't go away, unfortunately," Chaffee says. "Pine between First and Second has been a corner that has attracted people who are users for decades and decades and decades, long before the needle exhange and probably after our move as well."

James Sido, spokesman for the Downtown Seattle Association, says Target is no silver bullet for downtown crime, but rather a symbol of change.

"This is an evolving process," Sido says. "It's not one fell swoop, there's one action that's taken and the transformation is complete. It (Target) is an indicator of the progress that's being made."

Sido followed up with an email clarifying that Joncas' quote in the Seattle Times was intended to mean that Target represents "a changeover for businesses that makes the streets more active, further activation of the storefronts in the area."

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder, meanwhile, says the new Seattle store will "certainly have teams dedicated to asset protection for the safety and security of people who work and shop at our stores, as well as for our merchandise." Snyder adds that Target plans to "forge a strong relationship with local law enforcement." (SPD rounded up dozens of low-level drug dealers in the Pike/Pine corridor early last month.)

"We definitely have a vested interest that the community and store is thriving," Snyder says.

Snyder couldn't speak to any specific strategies to combat crime in their new neighborhood, nor give an example of how similar scenarios have played out in other cities.

Target is certainly a welcome addition to downtown, and there's no arguing the fact that the influx of businesses to the Pike/Pine nexus means things are headed in the right direction. But to suggest that the store's arrival is some sort of tipping point is like buying the Target brand diapers and pretending that they're Huggies.

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