Pioneer Square: Body and Soul
To say life is busy at Pioneer Square is an understatement! From building rezoning to preservation, the changes now occurring in Seattle’s oldest neighborhood are fast, huge, and potentially historical. With change, of course, come a few growing pains.
Pioneer Square is on the north end of what the City of Seattle deems “South Downtown”, stretching across the International District and over the Stadium District. The City does not set official neighborhood boundaries, but the Pioneer Square zone is roughly bordered by Alaskan Way S/Occidental Ave S; S Royal Brougham Way; 4th Avenue S; and a little north of Yesler Way. More on that later.
In April, 2011, the Seattle City Council ratified new building heights for South Downtown. Addressing concerns that area development was not keeping pace with the rest of the city, hopes were that the new height limits would spur construction and stimulate growth. It got a little heated when the talk came to Pioneer Square.
Developers and the Downtown Seattle Association wanted heights up to 180 feet (18 stories if you calculate 10 feet per story). Preservationists argued that this would be way too high, and radically alter the face of Pioneer Square (also on the National Register of Historic Places). Preservationists further stated that increased heights in surrounding neighborhoods would still draw people to Pioneer Square without threatening its culture and character.
Compromise was made. Zoned as Pioneer Square Mixed, buildings may go as high as 100 feet as long as they’re not more than 15 feet taller than the adjacent buildings. Some areas could rise to 120 feet (without the 15-foot restriction) when certain provisions were met. Part of the entire new South Downtown rezoning plan, these provisions include: Affordable Housing; Historic Preservation; Public Safety; Parking; Economic Development; and Walkability.
The City’s recent focus on Pioneer Square began in June 2010 when it released a plan called Pioneer Square 2015, A Strategy for Seattle’s First Neighborhood. This link points to how we’re doing one year later.
More changes are occurring to encourage growth in the area. The City is now laying conduit under First Avenue for fiber-optic broadband internet, and Comcast has been selected as the service provider. Access begins in September.
Businesses are giving Pioneer Square a second look, and moving in! Two examples are Onehub, specializing in file sharing resources, arriving from Bellevue and Jones Soda, currently at South Lake Union, relocating near CenturyLink Field.
Pioneer Square’s legacy is important to the history of Seattle. On the historical side, the Trail to Treasure was introduced in May, 2011. Its goal is to bring the story of Seattle’s beginning to life through a walking tour of Pioneer Square. There’s still much to do to complete the full project, but you can currently hit a number of stops (and some side trips) that helped shape the history and development of Pioneer Square, and Seattle/Puget Sound itself. Pick up a free map at the Cadillac Hotel (which is also a national park) at 319 Second Avenue S, or you can download it here.
The Alliance for Pioneer Square is dedicated to promoting Pioneer Square’s history and its local/tourist destination. The Seattle Square, in Occidental Park, will run through the fall. This outdoor market operates on Thursdays from 4:00-9:00 p.m with vintage and craft vendors, plus a rotation of food vendors and music. Finally, catch Pioneer Square’s monthly First Thursday Art Walk. This is the oldest and largest ArtWalk in Seattle, ongoing for nearly 30 years.
We’ll continue to keep you informed as Pioneer Square evolves—in both body, and soul.