The Pike Place Public Market has been my beat, almost forever. By the time I typed my first newspaper story on the Market in the 1980s — yes, typed on a manual Underwood — the Market already was a Seattle institution. The oldest continually operating farmers’ market in the country was nearing its seventh decade of serving householders of Seattle.
The Pike Place Market had its beginnings in the summer of 1907 when local farmers pulled their trucks onto the cobblestones at Pike Place and sold produce directly to customers who were unhappy over the high price of onions. Here customers could bargain with the farmers over purchases and, eventually, come to enjoy the diverse city culture and indigenous cuisine of the multi-cultural Market.
Where else might one go home with a grocery bag filled with fresh-caught crab, wild chanterelles, Scandinavian breads, hand-made sausages, Italian cheeses and picked-that-morning raspberries?
That was then. Now the Market, one of the city’s most visited tourist sites — host to 10 million visitors each yea r— is about to reach a new milestone.
Today the Seattle City Council’s Central Waterfront Committee will approve Council Bill 117699, an agreement to develop PC-1 North, the Market’s last under-developed historic site. The agreement, authorizing the execution of an MOU between the City and the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, makes up to $7 million available — over the next two years — to the Market for engineering, design and consultant services.
As envisioned by architects Miller Hull, the project will develop the neglected 0.75 acre site, long used as a surface parking lot, with a low-rise, multipurpose structure. The new development will provide additional market parking, added retail space and several stories of low-income and artist housing.
The structure at PC1-North, designed to fit into its site with a low profile and preserve views toward the West, will create more room at the Market for booths and sellers, more room for the market’s fresh produce and organic specialties, all supplemented by increased parking and access.
But, more than that, the infill site will anchor a spectacular sloping walkway that will link the Market to the Waterfront, providing easy access for pedestrians between the two. The walkway will serve up matchless views of Elliott Bay all along the way. There will be ample room on the promenade for public art and green outlooks.
The change will present the Market with a fantastic opportunity. But the opportunity is just as great or greater for Seattle’s emerging waterfront which will benefit from easy access to Seattle’s prime tourist attraction. Visitors are always told that, if they only have just one day to spend in Seattle, the Market should top the list.
Years ago, city planners from San Francisco visited the Pike Place Market and, because of its success, duplicated many of its features on the San Francisco redesigned waterfront. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, in this case, we have the original, the true heart of the city, poised to become even more the toast of the town.