Pioneer Square shines after revitalization of Seattle’s oldest neighborhood

Aug 17, 2016, 8:58 AM | Updated: 11:19 am
Pioneer Square...
Tourists stroll through Seattle's Occidental Park on a summer day. (KIRO Radio file photo)
(KIRO Radio file photo)

The Seahawks play their first home game Thursday night when they host the Minnesota Vikings in a preseason clash at Century Link Field.

There’ll be thousands of fans around Pioneer Square before and after the game. And if they haven’t been down in there in a while, they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how vibrant, clean, and active Seattle’s oldest neighborhood has become.

From the archive: We’ve lost Pioneer Square

When Mike Klotz and his partner decided to open their upscale Pioneer Square sandwich shop Delicatus, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

It was 2009, the height — or depths — of the worst recession in decades.

And businesses were fleeing the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of people that thought we were nuts,” Klotz said as we sat out on his patio along First Avenue in the heart of Pioneer Square. “We knew there was a strong daytime lunch business here and we were just watching the way the city was growing and they kind of skipped this neighborhood, and they could only do it for so long … we did have a plan, there was a little roll of the dice.”

The gamble paid off for Klotz and many other businesses and resident who’ve flocked to the neighborhood.

Business is booming

On a sunny morning this week, Pioneer Square was bustling. Tourists mingle with high tech workers, hipsters and the homeless. Businesses are also booming.

“We have over 50 new restaurants alone in the last two years,” said Lisa Dixon, chief operating officer for the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

The business-funded advocacy group has worked its tail off for more than a decade to bring new life, people, and businesses to the neighborhood.

And it’s working — day and night. The number of residents has nearly doubled since the opening of several new apartment and condo buildings near CenturyLink Field.

“We have about 14,000 employees here during the day. We’re not quite to those numbers during the evening and nighttime. But as people feel more comfortable in the area and are able to come down here and visit all the new restaurants and retail and shopping … there’s a lot to do and a lot to see and the doors are open at night now.”

It’s about to get even busier. Crews are putting the finishing touches on the gorgeous new building that local timber icon Weyerhaeuser will call home starting next month.

There were several reasons the company decided to move from Federal Way to the heart of Seattle, according to Jack Evans, VP of communications for Weyerhaeuser.

“Increasingly, companies are finding that employees want to work in urban environments and urban settings. Pioneer has a great history and it has gone through some incredible revitalization in the recent years and we think this is the kind of vibrant, diverse environment our employees will want to work in,” Evans said.

Evans says the company also needs to be in the center of Seattle’s tech industry to attract the best and brightest when it recruits against Amazon, Microsoft and the like for top talent.

Related: Resurgence is real for Seattle’s Pioneer Square 

Just outside Weyerhaeuser’s new headquarters is perhaps the most visible sign of Pioneer Square’s resurgence.

Safety in Seattle’s oldest neighborhood

Occidental Park used to be overrun by the homeless, alcoholics and addicts. It reeked of urine and people did their best to avoid it. But thanks to a unique partnership between businesses, residents, and the city, it’s been transformed.

It’s become a clean, safe and inviting destination.

“We have overnight security, concierges during the daytime, and then all of the continuous activation during the day whether it’s coming out to grab a bite to eat from the food trucks, or playing chess or any of the other things that are offered throughout the day. There’s just stuff to do and people are comfortable being there” Dixon said.

But none of it would have happened if the businesses and residents hadn’t taken it upon themselves and somewhat forced the city to step up and help.

Businesses tax themselves to fund everything from marketing to the private security and people that clean up the streets, even working directly with the many homeless and mentally ill in the area.

“They’ve [city officials] been much more responsive but they’re definitely someone that you have to hold accountable. They’re like a kid. They’ll do the right thing if you tell them what you need and what you want, but if you look the other way they might ignore you,” Klotz said.

But no one is ignoring Pioneer Square now. These days, the biggest challenge for Seattle’s oldest neighborhood is finding space for everyone who wants to be there.

As the crowds line up for one of the sandwiches at Delicatus, Mike says his restaurant-owning friends who told him he was crazy for opening in Pioneer Square are now singing a very different tune.

“Derrick [Mike’s partner] and I have been fortunate enough to go back and be like ‘I told you,’ he beams. “So now they’re the ones reaching out to us asking if there are any spots in the neighborhood open.”

One caveat — it’s still gritty. You do have two homeless shelters down there and plenty of down-and-out people. But it’s become far less problematic, and the crime rate is actually lower than in many other neighborhoods.

“It’s just a great neighborhood,” Klotz said.

Local News

Republicans, redistricting...
Nick Bowman

State Supreme Court allows late-arriving redistricting maps to move forward

The state Supreme Court n will allow new legislative and congressional maps submitted late by the state's redistricting commission to move forward. 
11 hours ago
religious accommodation, traffic stops...
Nick Bowman

Study yields mixed results on racial disparities during Washington State Patrol traffic stops

A new study digs into five years of data on traffic stops made by Washington State Patrol, demonstrating mixed results regarding racial disparities.
11 hours ago
Emerald City Comic Con...
KIRO Radio Newsdesk

Long-awaited return of Emerald City Comic Con offers crucial outlet for fans and artists alike

Not only is the return of Emerald City Comic Con a big deal for fans, but it is a welcome respite for small artists and creators as well.
11 hours ago
Seattle snow...
MyNorthwest Staff

‘Chance for snow’ on Monday across Seattle area, say forecasters

With temperatures rapidly dropping over the next few days, it's possible that parts of the Seattle area could see their first taste of winter snow.
11 hours ago
KIRO 7 News Staff

Multiple people injured in multi-vehicle collision involving dump truck in Renton

A multi-vehicle collision shut down parts of Maple Valley Highway and 140th Avenue Southeast in Renton Thursday night.
11 hours ago
climate change, flood...
MyNorthwest Staff

Washington needs to ‘defeat climate change at its source,’ says Gov. Inslee

Gov. Inslee hopes recent flooding events in northern Washington will help inspire the state Legislature to "take more action" against climate change.
11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
Pioneer Square shines after revitalization of Seattle’s oldest neighborhood