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Live, Work & Play: How To Balance a Thriving Downtown

March 23, 2022 - by Sandy Vo

Live, Work & Play:
How To Balance a Thriving Downtown

A Q&A With MIG's Kate Joncas

Kate Joncas

Developing vibrant downtowns is a skill that Kate Joncas, director of urban strategy and development for MIG, has successfully mastered over the years. Her past roles as CEO of Downtown Seattle Association, her time as Seattle Deputy Mayor and her long participation in the International Downtown Association including as Board Chair, prepared Joncas for her current role consulting for MIG. Today, she’s in charge of leading strategic efforts for complex urban projects in downtowns, neighborhoods and commercial districts. She's also the lead consultant for the Bellevue Downtown Association's strategic plan update taking place this summer.

You can meet Joncas at our next in-person Downtown Talks Breakfast Series, where she’ll be sharing innovative strategies for successful downtowns and what urban vitality looks like in a post-pandemic era.

In anticipation of the event, we sat down with Joncas to learn more about her consulting work, and what characteristics make up a vibrant downtown.

BDA: How did you find your way to consulting for downtowns?

Joncas: My downtown work began in college when I earned a degree in urban planning, I've always loved complex urban places and I enjoy being a downtown advocate. I was the CEO of Downtown Seattle Association for 20 years where we led a revitalization project focused on creating an exciting retail mix, transportation options, residential and office development opportunities and great public spaces. I then became the Seattle Deputy Mayor in 2014, where I directed 30 departments and led numerous redevelopments and expansion projects. After being in Seattle for so long, I wanted to broaden my perspective--MIG was the place to do that. Now, I get to work with downtowns and cities across the country.

BDA: There's a lot of interest in Downtown Bellevue for business. What makes a downtown business or organization successful?

Joncas: Downtown revitalization success is all about leadership and having a clear mission. Downtowns are wonderfully diverse, but the stakeholders need to be oriented on that single purpose even though they come to the table for different reasons and needs. I think it’s thoughtful and smart of the BDA to do a strategic plan at this point in time, because we’re all recovering from the pandemic and starting fresh. There’s no better time to get everyone enthusiastic and rallied around what the future of downtown could be.

Lanterns as a placemaking activation along the
Grand Connection in Downtown Bellevue

BDA: How have you seen downtowns evolve over the years?

Joncas: One concept that has come up over the years is placemaking, where we focus on the pedestrian experience and activating our public spaces. We’ve moved away from big suburban shopping centers where you go, park and head inside into an isolated building. During the pandemic, online shopping went from 10% to 28% of all retail sales. Now that we are all used to shopping from home, working from home and being entertained at home, we need to make the Downtown experience so compelling and enjoyable, people will want to leave the house! 

BDA: What do you consider the key characteristics of a vibrant downtown?

Joncas: A great Downtown is a place where people can live, work, shop and play. They are a place where people want to be, and where people can experience the wonderful diversity of their community. Downtowns that were the most resilient during the pandemic were those that had multiple types of uses. -- When all the workers stayed home, you still had residents and visitors who could support your retail businesses.

BDA: What is one unique aspect of Downtown Bellevue?

Joncas: One of the reasons I'm so excited about being a part of the strategic planning for the BDA is that Downtown Bellevue is inventing a new kind of urban experience. It's not the kind of urban experience you get in Downtown Seattle or Chicago, and it's not a suburban experience like Alderwood. I believe Downtown Bellevue will be successful if it takes the best attributes of urban places and suburban places, and combines them in new and exciting ways.

BDA: What is your favorite way to experience a downtown?

Downtown Bellevue

Joncas: My favorite part of downtown is walking around and seeing the urban vibrancy. Nothing beats sitting out in an attractive and active urban place, having a cup of coffee and watching people walk by. Some of my favorite places in Downtown Bellevue that brings vibrancy are Bellevue Downtown Park and Meydenbauer Bay Park.

BDA: Where do you see Downtown Bellevue in 5 - 10 years?

Joncas: I hope to see Downtown Bellevue as a place that encompasses all things that make a downtown vibrant, and this goes back to being a great place to work, live, shop and play. You can never be one thing, it’s important to be flexible and innovative over time. We'll be asking this exact question during our strategic planning process with the BDA. We want to know where people think the opportunities and challenges are and then help craft a successful strategy for the future.

Downtown Talks Breakfast Series returns in person on March 29! Hear Kate Joncas and Gary Guenther, executive vice president & shareholder for Kidder Matthews, share insights on downtown vibrancy and understanding growth. Get tickets today.

This blog is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.