Monthly Staff Feature: Karen True, Alliance For Pioneer Square Economic Development Director

Karen True is the driving force behind the Alliance for Pioneer Square’s economic development efforts. The era of COVID-19 has not only redefined her role in many ways, it also emphasized how important sustained and progressive economic vitality is for our entire community.  

As part of our monthly staff feature, we asked Karen to describe the overall impact that the pandemic has had on the business community in Pioneer Square and to provide an outlook on the year ahead.

A number of businesses have had to permanently shut down as a direct result of the pandemic. What are your thoughts on the changing business landscape/business makeup of the Pioneer Square neighborhood in recent months?

Watching businesses close their doors has been heartbreaking. The sense of loss is inescapable. Each business that closed represents owners, employees, and customers who brought love and life to Pioneer Square every day. These people were our neighbors and friends. We miss them and our gratitude for what they brought to our neighborhood is beyond words. They will forever be part of Pioneer Square’s story.

Also forever part of Pioneer Square’s story will be all the ways people found to generate opportunities to keep moving forward toward the other side of this pandemic. 

Can you elaborate on some of the opportunities that have been uncovered during this past year? 

What has been most exciting to see has been collaboration among the widest range of stakeholders in the neighborhood imaginable. Everything from creative cross-promotions, pop-ups and markets, fundraising, murals, neighborhood/business block watch, “welcome back” efforts, coordination among service providers, and more. 

The generosity of stakeholders and partners is another one. Though the need for assistance clearly exceeded available resources, all who could, sprang into action. As the government developed emergency loan and grant programs, Pioneer Square partners pushed forward with their own efforts.

Nonprofits and foundations found ways to provide financial assistance to businesses and the arts community. Our residents collected coats. Upper level businesses bought gift cards from Pioneer Square restaurants and retailers for their employees working from home. Restaurants and retailers raised money to support out-of-work employees and sent meals to public health workers.

The resolve and ingenuity, and undoubtedly, sleepless nights, of business owners has been remarkable. They reconfigured business models to stay open, reopen, or stay alive while they wait for the right time to return.

There’s just so many more examples to mention and I’m quite sure we’ll be talking about them for a very long time. These are the people and attitudes that will carry Pioneer Square through the pandemic and recovery.

Given how our community has responded to the public health and economic challenges so far, how well positioned do you think PSQ is to take on recovery?

Despite the challenges, I remain confident that Pioneer Square is well positioned for the future. Our district has some extraordinary assets. Not only are we a historic preservation district, we have a newly developed waterfront, vibrant and walkable public realm, the stadiums and our proximity to downtown, the Chinatown International District, and SODO all put us in a great place to come back strong. 

There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when we’ll all be welcoming new businesses to Pioneer Square. Believe it or not, we’re already getting several inquiries.

There’s a number of significant public/private investments currently underway in and around the neighborhood. What new developments are you excited to see?

The number and caliber of public and private investments in Pioneer Square point to an exciting future. Many of these have been years in the making and it’s great to see them moving forward in this time of recovery.

·       Completion of our waterfront and South Access.

·       East-West Pedestrian Improvements 

·       Occidental Square Pavilion

·       ?ál?al “Home” 

·       citizenM 

·       Metropole Building 

·       Canton Lofts 

·       165 S Washington

·       Korn Walker Block 

·       Washington Park Building 

·       Grand Central Block 

·       Railspur

And finally, you’re in a world in the not so distant future and COVID-19 is in the rear-view. What are you doing then that you can’t do right now?

I can’t wait for First Thursday, music, theater, games, walks and sidewalk chats. I miss the long, lingering conversations over coffee, wine, or a meal with others who love Pioneer Square as fiercely as I do. And the hugs, lots of hugs.