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Pardon Karen Richeson's skepticism. She's earned it. As Kelly's daytime barkeep for the past eight years and as a former bartender and part-owner of the

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At Kelly's, a Reality Check for the Belltown Boulevard Project

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Pardon Karen Richeson's skepticism. She's earned it. As Kelly's daytime barkeep for the past eight years and as a former bartender and part-owner of the Rendezvous, she's watched pockets of Belltown get tall and rich. And she's watched sections decay, all independent of promises by police or elected leaders.

Take the intersection outside Kelly's. Seemingly immune to the money that scrubbed adjacent blocks, the four corners marked by Bell Street and Third Avenue every night still ebb with dealers, junkies, drunkies and hoods. The dog park that went in a couple of years ago helped a bit, she says, mainly during the day.

But come sunset each night of every week, the neighborhood's fixed-income elderly retreat indoors. And every night, she says, they are replaced with the zombies that will doom Belltown Boulevard's public space unless the city does something.

"Parks are great," Karen says. "I like parks. But they've done nothing with the drug pushers. It's a nightmare. If they build the park and then don't patrol it, it's just going to be a nicer place for the druggies."

As planned, the Boulevard will be a five-block park promenade with a single lane of traffic running from First to Fifth avenues. Dotted with trees, benches and grass, the boulevard is an effort to create urban-Euro open space for the public to gather and linger. (This sort of proposition didn't work so well a block away, it's worth noting.)

But exactly who, Karen asked, is the city going to let hang around?

Owner Mary Costello-Abbey wonders the same. In 1987, she moved Kelly's from Upper Queen Anne to Belltown. Since then, the cheap dive hasn't changed much. Kelly's still runs two taps with one draft beer -- Pabst -- and sells its weight in cold cans of Bud each night.

But the bar now sports a security camera. And spotlights on the sidewalk. This is a nod to the crime near the intersection, a regular barrage of police calls and blotter entries. This is why the Weekly tabbed her bar as Seattle's most intimidating, she says, not because of problems inside.

"It's a good place," she says, "and we keep it clean. But we don't control the sidewalks. It can be a nightmare at night."

If the city doesn't watch the new park, she says, it's "going to be a drug emporium. But if it works out, if it gets even one senior citizen to come out at night, then it's worth it."

As for now, Seattle officials are communicating regularly with businesses along the planned construction zone about construction schedules occasionally blocked access. Karen said the city has been great about informing the bar and it has given her no indication that it will feel any negative impact from the upscaling plans.

This dive bar, she says, always seems to keep a steady business, regardless of what goes on around it. "I don't think that tearing up the street will be a problem," she says. "As you've probably guessed, most of our customers are walk-ups."

 
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