Resurgence is real for Seattle’s Pioneer Square

Sep 17, 2014, 7:49 AM | Updated: 7:50 am

When Seattle’s iconic Elliott Bay Bookstore moved out of Pioneer Square in 2010, it was just another punch in the gut to a neighborhood many thought was on its last legs.
Four years later, Seattle’s oldest neighborhood is booming.

Construction crews are rapidly transforming the former home of the bookstore in the historic Globe Building on South Main Street and First Avenue South into the new headquarters of Cafe Nordo – a popular Seattle dinner-theater company that has operated in temporary spaces around the city for the past five years.

Erin Brindley, Cafe Nordo’s co-executive director, says the company fell in love with Pioneer Square after doing a show there several years ago.

“The energy and the buzz and the feeling of pride from both merchants and locals, there was just such a feeling,” she says. “It’s a super magical place to be. We were really thrilled to be there.”

They’re far from alone. Weyerhauser announced in August plans to move its longtime home from Federal Way to Pioneer Square, bringing 800 employees with it.

Several dozen new restaurants, retailers and other businesses have opened in the past year.

Perhaps most importantly, people are flocking to fill the nearly 1,000 new apartments that have opened in the futuristic Stadium Place development north of CenturyLink Field and several other buildings – the first new residential units in the neighborhood since 1985.

“I think the reason for the success down here is we had 50 different strategies that we were working on simultaneously and things have managed to come together,” says Lisa Dixon, marketing director for the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

The organization was founded in 2010 to help develop and lead implementation of a strategic plan to revitalize the neighborhood.

Talk about a seemingly daunting task. The group was charged with everything from economic development and retail recruitment to cleaning up the neighborhood and curbing crime.

“We’ve been working hard for a long time,” Dixon says. “I think we’ve finally hit the critical mass.”

Brindley credits the Alliance with helping lure Cafe Nordo to the neighborhood. She says the organization worked hard to recruit the company, pairing it with potential landlords and putting on the hard sell to convince them Pioneer Square would be a good home.

“There is just such a force behind bringing this very special neighborhood in Seattle back to life,” Brindley says.

A major focus in the neighborhood’s renewal is public safety. Dixon says the police department and new chief Kathleen O’Toole have committed to working with local businesses and residents, beefing up patrols and working with the myriad homeless shelters to reduce crime and make the neighborhood more comfortable, especially at night.

Dixon admits it’s far from perfect, but she says there’s been a significant improvement.

“I think they’ve done a lot and so have we and it’s come together in a really great way,” Dixon says.

While the neighborhood is undergoing dramatic changes, Dixon is confident its character won’t. Despite the influx of new residents and businesses, the area is designated a historic district, meaning its buildings must be preserved.

“Having that layer of federal protection will help with that,” Dixon says. “And we have such great business owners come in who kind of understand the culture of Pioneer Square. I don’t foresee that [change] happening in a way that people are fearful of.”

Cafe Nordo is scheduled to open its new theater with kitchen and rehearsal space in November. It’s expected to be joined by a number of other new restaurants and retail in the next year.

“This really feels like the real thing,” Brindley says. “It’s got such a beautiful energy behind it.”

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Resurgence is real for Seattle’s Pioneer Square