Pioneer Square's takeoff: Be there or be left out

Call it the Tom Douglas Effect: Moves by smart investors are leading to more businesses jumping in.

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Sharing the building with the HUB are Social Venture Partners and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, an accredited school of business that imparts sustainable business practices throughout their curriculum. BGI moved from its original location on Bainbridge Island a few years ago and already has conferred hundreds of degrees. SVP provides funding for non-profits involved in education of children, including those with special needs, as well as to the Mountains to Sound Greenway and the Washington Environmental Council.

The building includes a generous event space on the ground floor. It has a small raised stage, a sound system, big monitors and a catering kitchen. Plans are in the works for a café that would occupy the wedge-shaped tip of the structure, which is encased by large storefront windows. The intent is to have a lively, active center of innovative business practices and social events. Already, people can be seen coming and going even late Sunday evenings when Pioneer Square is relatively quiet.

A stone’s throw to the south, Katherine Anderson is not far off from opening a new store with an innovative approach to food rather than social capital. With restauranteur Matt Dillon of the Sitka and Spruce fame as a partner, London Plane will take over the space at the corner of Occidental and Main that was occupied for decades by a bank. Similar to the creative mash-up at the HUB building, London Plane will contain an operating bakery, a café with both sit-down or take-out service, and a flower shop.

“I am a bit worried about the drunks,” say Katherine. But not the street person version, as you might expect, but rather the sports-attending and clubbing crowds that surge through the neighborhood periodically. Pioneer Square has long had a reputation for being unsafe because of a concentration street people. Unsavory-looking to some people as they might be, their presence is nothing compared with out-of-control clubgoers and  sports fans after a Seahawks game — urinating in building entrances, vomiting and screaming for hours into the night. It's behavior that the city should not be tolerating but seems to be in this neighborhood. Civility laws seem to be selectively applied.

Anderson is not deterred at all by the normal daytime atmosphere. Though originally from Seattle, she has lived in other cities with far worse street conditions. For some people in this region, Pioneer Square will always be associated with indigents. The mythology is persistent, despite that population being relatively benign.

Anderson opines that Occidental Avenue is the most beautiful street in the city. Indeed, it holds its own when compared with other gracious, tree-lined lanes in other cities — in both the U.S. and abroad. It's one reason that she and Matt Dillon have chosen prime corner locations for their businesses. Anderson and Dillon will own and operate Indigene, a wine bar, at the corner of Occidental and Jackson.

Dillon is soon to open Bar Sajor, a full service restaurant on the opposite corner. Every day, eager locals can be seen trying to peek into the restaurant's windows, which are now papered over for their full height. All three food- and drink-serving places will have outside seating. Along with the authentically Italian Caffè Umbria coffee bar, Occidental will soon be lined with outside cafes. Despite the weather, we in Seattle love our cafes. But then we are not that dissimilar in climate to Amsterdam, which is chockablock with them.

Another shop soon to open on another stretch of Occidental is Rain Shadow Meats. Run by Russ Flint who has a shop in the Melrose Market near Anderson and Dillon, promises something that Pioneer Square has likely not seen in many decades --  a real butcher shop. Observes Flint, ”I’ve always loved Pioneer Square. In many ways, my business fits perfectly with the traditional businesses that were around when the city began.” In addition to offering select choice cuts of meat, his new shop will include a lunch counter. He sees being open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Already some businesses are beginning to extend their hours due to the new and anticipated population.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 10:18 a.m. Inappropriate

So, Mr Hinshaw, how much did the developer(s) pay you to write this?

orino

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Regardless of how much the developers paid you, good article Mr. Hinshaw. Thank you for bringing attention back to the square. I agree with Ms. Anderson, Occidental Ave. is one of the more beautiful streets in the city and we should be ashamed of ourselves for ignoring it's potential.

Orino, doesn't it sound more like small business is paying Mr. Hinshaw? Sure there is the bit about north lot development, but the rest is free and good press about several small business ventures. This is not the typical south Lake Union piece that has been dominating architectural and/or urban reports as of late. IMO, these are the types of businesses that deserve this attention.

Now, if only we could get that trolley running again. Sure it's touristy but what a great ride it made from the ID to the waterfront.

uncletim

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 12:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Pioneer Square has received some good press of late, but rarely do reporters get beyond the big names and bright lights. Thank you, Mr. Hinshaw for this rare depth of coverage. Another element to the story is the role that activist residents play in restoring civility to our cherished neighborhood.

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 4:04 p.m. Inappropriate

I also agree with Katherine Anderson (and uncletim) that "Occidental Avenue is the most beautiful street in the city". The Avenue and the Park are incredible places during the summer. Seattle has so much potential - I am excited to read about these positive changes. Thanks for the article.

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 1:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh God, do I detect yet another plot by some toadying architect to hit Seattle with yet one more world-class yuppie post-modern ugly stick? I swear it, these people won't be satisfied until they ruin every square foot of the city! Can't you people leave anything alone?

NotFan

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 10:08 a.m. Inappropriate

One key will be making Occidental work for retail for more than one block. The block facing Occidental Park badly needs a building to the east side of the park, and I gather that is just one strong commercial tenant away from happening.

While Pioneer Square today is full of for rent signs at the street level, that is actually a kind of good news. Retailers that no longer serve the daytime, tech-oriented workforce in the Square are leaving, creating opportunities for the new kinds of hang-out retailing that are moving in. Another factor: the high prices in South Lake Union are deterring startups and support retail, and these folks are discovering the Square.

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 9:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Enough financial advice from architects! Let's get some architectural opinions from financial planners.

simorgh

Posted Fri, Dec 21, 5:15 a.m. Inappropriate

For the newcomers, it's time for a short course in how Pioneer Square got to where it is? What's the history of Occidental Mall, Globe lighting, Street Tree planting, designs of Occidental Park and Pioneer square Park, Median Strips down First Avenue, Washington Street Boat landing, National Register of Historic Places listing,Designation by the City of Seattle, KingDome effects on the District, etc.
There was and can still be the same level of activism that needs to be in place and powerful to go into the successful future.
How about it?

Arthur M. Skolnik FAIA
Pioneer Square Historic District Manager (1971-75)

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