Since the South Park Bridge closed for renovation in 2010, Raymundo Olivas has felt shut off from the surrounding city, as if on an island. But he’s not on an island. Olivas does business in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle, a sliver of commercial and residential land wedged between the Duwamish River, I-509 and a green bluff rising to Highland Park.
The South Park bridge provided the primary access to the neighborhood’s commercial district. Since its closure, businesses have suffered.
Something had to be done. Olivas, a member of the South Park Retail Merchants Association (SPRMA), decided that the association needed to do more outreach to community businesses and customers. He contacted the UW Business and Economic Development Center and requested a team of student consultants to come up with a plan to bring customers and businesses to South Park.
The BEDC Student Consulting Program helps small businesses grow while providing hands on consulting experience to students. All under the guidance of expert advisors like Parker Montgomery, a 2005 graduate of the Foster School and current candidate in the UW Masters in Public Administration program. While an undergrad, Parker was a student consultant with BEDC. He has mentored student teams for the past four years.
“I’ve learned a ton from the program about small businesses in the community,” he says.
Beginning in January 2012, Parker offered this experience to the student consulting group tasked with reviving small businesses in South Park.
The students developed a neighborhood plan to attract new businesses to South Park. They identified the area’s needs, zoning issues, and market power to encourage potential business investors to consider it a viable location for their businesses.
Among the neighborhood’s unmet needs was for a grocery store. Through their research, the BEDC students met the founders of Stockbox Neighborhood Grocery, second-place winners at the 2011 UW Business Plan Competition, who were considering opening their first permanent location in South Park.
In August Stockbox opened its store in South Park. Business has been good and the community has appreciated having access to fresh, healthy food in their neighborhood.
While businesses and customers are starting to come to South Park, the neighborhood is looking forward to the bridge reopening in early 2014. Until then, Olivas and the Retail Merchants Association will continue to encourage economic development in South Park.
Parker says an ideal career for him, after finishing his MPA, would be working in economic development in the community. It’s a virtuous cycle.