MAKING PIONEER SQUARE WORK



Pioneer Square is the historic heart of Seattle’s downtown – but for years businesses and residents have been working to ensure its economic prosperity and livability as a neighborhood.  The neighborhood came together in the Neighborhood Planning process of the 1990’s, just as the two stadia were under construction, to ask the City to maintain its historic character while improving public safety, bringing in more housing, and improving the business climate.

Through all its vicissitudes since then, Pioneer Square clung to two anchors for its future:  Elliott Bay Books and the prospect of a mixed use development on the North stadium parking lot that would greatly increase the residential population.  Two years ago the Council approved rezoning and a plan for the stadium parking lot.  Then the recession hit, the stadium lot plan went on hold, and Elliott Bay decided to move to Capitol Hill.

Some neighborhoods might have thrown in the towel.  But not Pioneer Square.  Pioneer Square people are determined – and resourceful.  Instead they brought together (with critical assistance from the Office of Economic Development and Department of Neighborhoods) the biggest and most diverse group of stakeholders ever assembled in the neighborhood, agreed to collaborate and avoid divisions, and created a new plan which is now ready to move into implementation.

The key to the plan is that stakeholders focused on a positive approach and looked at what’s working that needs strengthening.

First they brought in a consultant to assess the economic health of the Square.  His conclusion:

“Far from being a commercial district in its last gasp, Pioneer Square is a commercial district of both relative economic health and extraordinary economic opportunity. The physical fabric of the neighborhood, the considerable but largely invisible growth of knowledge-based businesses, and the proximity to both Seattle and international markets that the district provides would be envied by almost any other commercial district in the country.”

Donovan Rypekma, Place Economics

There are lots of examples of how Pioneer Square works, such as the Seattle-area based branch of a Dutch-owned company that moved from Bellevue to Pioneer Square, because the company wanted to be in a vital urban area where people could get to work without using their car.  The Director described the hour-long drive he took to get to the Bellevue office – and how he now lives in Rainier Valley and takes a 20 minute train ride.  He comes to work – and returns home – relaxed and energetic.  And the company employs 300 people.

The retail in Pioneer Square is important, but the jobs in Pioneer Square are in the office spaces above the retail.   Those jobs will keep coming to the Square – if there is the right environment around them.  Which means keep working the retail and getting more housing, but doing so as part of a comprehensive strategy.

So the community went to work.  They spent six months creating a plan for community and City action.  Core initiatives:

• Improve the public safety experience and perception by activating public and vacant spaces,

addressing blighted buildings, and improving civility and stewardship of the neighborhood.

• Increase residential density and facilitate the adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

• Provide supportive infrastructure for economic growth, including reliable broadband, parking,

and public restroom facilities.

• Implement a cohesive strategy for retaining existing businesses and attracting businesses in the existing and growing clusters, including creative and technical/professional services clusters.

• Establish and support a comprehensive economic development organization to advance and

advocate for the business health of the neighborhood.

Pioneer Square revitalization is in my Regional Development and Sustainability Committee, and I am committed to working with them to make things happen!