I’m the first to say that I’ve got the best gig in town.
People seem most intrigued by the “retail recruitment” aspect of my work for good reason. What’s not to like about being the neighborhood matchmaker? I get to connect brilliant retail and restaurant businesses with fabulous spaces in our beautiful historic district. Beat that.
It’s not about filling vacant street level spaces with whomever is ready to sign a lease. Far from it. It’s about finding those quality, intriguing, and relevant retail businesses that will make Pioneer Square an even better place to live, work, and visit. The recruitment strategy developed in 2012 with the help of community stakeholders suggested guidelines for a particular mix of restaurants, retail, and services. It also recommended leading the recruitment effort with food. 26 new storefront businesses opened in Pioneer Square in 2013, 15 of them restaurants. More are scheduled to open in this summer. Not a bad start, right?
What kinds of retail businesses are great candidates? Sometimes it’s an existing business ready to expand or try a new concept. Other times it’s a new venture that’s been the dream of someone working behind the lines for someone else. Sometimes it’s someone I’ve personally invited to take a walk around the neighborhood. Others find their way here all on their own. My goal is to generate a buzz about all that’s happening in our business district. When creative entrepreneurs are ready to “set up shop”, we want them to think about Pioneer Square. Regardless of how they get here, my job is then to help new businesses understand the vision of the neighborhood, help navigate the waters of administrative permits and approvals, connect them to whatever resources might be useful, introduce them to other businesses, and help them spread the word.
As the story of Pioneer Square’s revitalization gets more attention, I’m often asked “what was the real turning point?” Was it the restaurants? The apartments at Stadium Place? The tech companies? The King Street Station renovation? The streetcar? The waterfront? The stadiums? The ….?
Of course, you know the answer. It’s all of the above. And it takes time. Stadium Place, for example, was over ten years in the making. No one program, including the retail recruitment and business development program that fills my days, stands alone. If the Alliance for Pioneer Square hadn’t partnered with so many community stakeholders to weave a sustainable infrastructure based on a comprehensive neighborhood plan, the changes we’re buzzing about wouldn’t stand a chance.
For instance, if it hadn’t been for those long-fought battles:
- The streetcar route would have ended in the Chinatown/International District.
- Metered parking would still go until 8:00 PM.
- After losing those hundreds of parking spaces under the viaduct, there would have been no mitigation dollars to subsidize short-term parking in four neighborhood garages to be cheaper than street parking – and fund free parking for First Thursday.
- There’d be no marketing of the neighborhood. (Think maps, social media, and those awesome bus ads!)
- There would be no advocate at the table to make certain our interests are represented in talks about the waterfront, street civility, transportation and public transit, parks, historic preservation, stadiums, housing, etc.
We’re not done. Not even close. We’ll continue to move things forward, welcoming all who care about the future of Pioneer Square to be part of the effort. I’ll continue to watch for cool retail to complement the anchors who have been here for decades, as well as the newest kids on the block.
I welcome all ideas and suggestions about possible retailers – or other kinds of cool uses – that you think might add to the magic of Pioneer Square. What have you seen in another neighborhood or what did you see during that trip to Florence, Prague, or Nashville that would be perfect here? I want to know. The coffee’s on me.
Oh, and be sure to sign up here to join me at the neighborhood Spring Clean on April 19.