South Lake Union Block Party Turns 15!

August 16, 2019

On August 9, the South Lake Union Block Party celebrated 15 years of music, food, and community with our largest event yet. Over 15,000 guests, 70 vendor booths, and 45 sponsors, including Amazon, Jack Daniel’s, and Anheuser-Busch, came together to raise a record-breaking $50,000 for FareStart and $7,500 for the South Lake Union Chamber. The sunny day attracted Seattleites to the event for them to enjoy the fun of this annual summer tradition, but many visitors may not have been aware of the Block Party’s impact on the community or its deep roots in the neighborhood and importance to Vulcan Real Estate.
 



SLU Block Party has raised over $200,000 for non-profit organizations doing important work in South Lake Union
Festival attendees visit community booths at SLU Block Party 2019

Origins of the Block Party

In the late 1990s, South Lake Union was poised to grow as a center of innovation in healthcare and life sciences. Vulcan’s founder, Paul G. Allen, saw the potential and invested in the area’s future, acquiring 60 acres of property in SLU. Executing Paul’s vision, Vulcan Real Estate created a distinct, inclusive approach to real estate development incorporating three key elements: respectful engagement of all stakeholders, conservation of the existing natural environment, and the creation of spaces that foster community connections.
 
South Lake Union in 2002
In an effort to cultivate community and support the neighborhood’s businesses, the Vulcan Real Estate team launched the South Lake Union Expo—an annual showcase of local businesses and community organizations. Hosted at the Naval Reserve Armory building, now home to the Museum of History and Industry, the event was relatively small compared to today’s Block Party. Instead of live musical acts, it featured rows of exhibits from invited businesses and nonprofits. During the half-day event, guests could learn more about the neighborhood, its business community, and the exciting changes that were taking place.

“Our business has been in South Lake Union since the mid-80s, so we’ve had the opportunity to see the neighborhood change, evolve, and grow” said Rebecca Kaplan of Glazer’s Camera. “Vulcan Real Estate has taken the lead in this community and created spaces to showcase that SLU has always been a dynamic place to live and own a business.”
 
SLU Block Party grew from a desire to cultivate community and support local businesses

Moving to the Discovery Center

Three years after the first Expo, South Lake Union was developing at an increasingly rapid pace. With the opening of the South Lake Union Discovery Center in 2005, visitors to the neighborhood could now see the vision for SLU’s future with the help of a large, detailed 3-D model of planned development. Meanwhile, the SLU Expo was also growing at a steady pace, as more businesses moved to the area. To accommodate the expanding event, organizers at Vulcan Real Estate moved its location to the Discovery Center. The name of the Expo was also changed to the South Lake Union Block Party in order to reflect the larger scale of the event and its goal of engaging the community.
 



SLU Block Party moved to its current home at SLU Discovery Center in 2005
First SLU Block Party Main Stage on the Discovery Center lawn in 2005

Steamroller Smackdown Joins the Party

At its new location, the Block Party became a powerful means to connect residents, local businesses, and community organizations. When the School of Visual Concepts’ Steamroller Smackdown print-making contest, a summer tradition in SLU, faced challenges with their venue and was looking for a new home, they reached out to Vulcan Real Estate and became a welcomed addition to the South Lake Union Block Party.

“Suddenly, we had the entire SLU Block Party team working behind us,” said Jenny Wilkson, Director of the Letterpress Program at SVC. “All the businesses that go into putting on the Block Party were coordinated, so we were able to focus on growing the event with the neighborhood. I don’t know how we could ever do it without Vulcan Real Estate at this point.”
 
At the Block Party, the Smackdown tradition has thrived and is one of the event's most popular elements, galvanizing Seattle's design community.



Steamroller Smackdown and other community activations are a key element of SLU Block Party’s success and appeal
Creating giant posters at the Steamroller Smackdown
“SLU is known as the neighborhood that’s home to the tech boom, so the fact that we have all of these designers making art by hand with construction equipment is so powerful,” said Wilkson. “We’re using the tools that have transformed the neighborhood to make thoughtful art inspired by the community.”

Creating a Tradition that Benefits the Community

Cultivating spaces for local culture and the arts became a key part of the South Lake Union Block Party in its current form: a day-long celebration with music, food, local brews, and arts activities for the entire family. Northwest artists were incorporated into the expanded event, performing live music for growing crowds each year.
Built to Spill performing at SLU Block Party 2018.
“The SLU Block party brings our community together by spotlighting all of our local businesses and nonprofits,” said Danah Abarr, Executive Director at the SLU Chamber. “There is no other event like it in SLU. It is a unique experience of discovery, food, music and the arts that offers an opportunity for guests to get to know all the businesses, offerings and volunteer opportunities sitting right outside their doorsteps.”

To further engage the community, unique interactive activities were added periodically, such as a photo booth hosted by Glazer‘s Camera and Flatstick Pub’s mini-golf challenge. These new attractions added variety to the foundational elements of the SLU Block Party, and collectively these traditions, old and new, played an important role in attracting a growing number of guests, heightening Block Party’s impact and paving the way for this year’s record-breaking event.
 
SLU Block Party has grown immensely while remaining true to its roots as a community festival
Flatstick Pub’s mini golf experience at SLU Block Party 2019
“As this year’s beneficiary, the success and growth of the SLU Block Party supports our work in the community,” said Angela Dunleavy-Stowell, CEO at local nonprofit FareStart. “We are truly grateful to Vulcan Real Estate and all the event sponsors for their incredible financial support to our students as they journey toward a new future.”
 
As in the past, Vulcan Real Estate continues to present the event every year. But today, South Lake Union’s role as an innovation hub has led to large sponsorships that support the event’s growth. National brands, like presenting sponsor Amazon and main stage sponsor Jack Daniel’s, were key to producing this year’s event. These organizations, like many residents and visitors, were drawn to the event because they recognized that the SLU Block Party is a great way to connect with and learn about such a vibrant neighborhood.

While the SLU Block Party has changed over the years, the event remains true to its roots as a showcase for local businesses and community organizations.
SLU Block Party throughout the years!
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