Monthly Staff Feature: Lisa Howard, Alliance ED

In her role as Executive Director of the Alliance, Lisa leads the team and uses her strong relationships to advocate for the neighborhood and the issues that impact Pioneer Square at the city, county, and state levels.

This month, we look back at 2022, discuss the upcoming year, and Lisa’s view on what it has in store for our community.

  1. As we wrap up the year, what are some highlights for you from 2022?

For me the standout theme of 2022 was tenacity. This year was a wild ride with the excitement of the world opening up again coupled with some of the most difficult challenges Pioneer Square has experienced. Early in the year, we had our largest Spring Clean ever with over 200 people showing up to show love to their neighborhood. It was also encouraging to see visitors returning throughout the summer. We saw daily visitor numbers creep up toward pre-pandemic levels due to an extra day on a cruise schedule or families coming down to see the Mariners in the playoffs!

I’m encouraged by the determination of everyone across the district. It is nothing short of inspiring to see people charge ahead despite all of the recent challenges. Small business owners have had to make hard decisions these past few years, yet we hear positive stories of investment and collaboration beginning to emerge from small, first-time merchants and large developers alike. We’ve been thrilled to support this ingenuity by continuing our popular Façade Improvement Fund program to distribute funding to over 40 businesses this year. Because of the success in 2021, we were able to secure additional funding in 2022 from Historic South Downtown and the Office of Economic Development.

  1. Of course, the past year was also not without challenges. What is one example of a challenge the Alliance had to overcome and how did we do it?

Over the course of the pandemic, many of our systemic challenges became even harder. This was evident in all of our work, but was especially concerning in the rushed proposed transfer of City Hall Park. The proposed transfer of ownership from the City of Seattle to King County brought up layers of complexity that had built up in this area over decades due to disinvestment and poor planning and had been acutely amplified by the impacts of policies implemented over the last couple of years.

This particular proposal was concerning as the neighborhood was not given the chance to adequately understand and give input on how this transfer would affect access to the park, the largest green space in Pioneer Square. This challenge was also unique in that two things were true: the situation unfolding in the space over the pandemic was untenable and needed to change for the safety of all AND our public land is an irreplaceable asset that must be stewarded with the highest level of consideration. A coalition of park advocates, businesses, residents, and human service organizations worked together to ensure the park remained a city park and that a path was identified to ensure the space serves the businesses, employees, civic campus visitors, and 800 residents far into the future.

The City of Seattle is following through with their commitment, having recently added $2.3 million in the budget dedicated to reopening and activating City Hall Park in partnership with King County. This is just the beginning to ensuring a safe, accessible space for all and a brighter future for one of Seattle’s oldest parks.

  1. Looking forward to 2023, what is coming up that will impact the neighborhood?

The outlook for next year is a positive one and I’m excited to jump in. Our neighborhood continues to see change – numerous developments continue to work toward opening their doors and the much-anticipated East West Pedestrian Improvement Project will break ground. We have many new businesses and more about to open their doors. 

The MLB All-Star Game is scheduled for July at T-Mobile Park and the cruise season has announced they are expecting a banner year. With regional investments including the SEA Airport International Arrivals terminal and the Seattle Convention Center expansion, I anticipate tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels. 

  1. What is one of your favorite holiday memories, and how do you like to celebrate the holiday season in Pioneer Square these days?

My favorite memory in Pioneer Square, and what I’m looking forward to the most this year, is a night out in the neighborhood during the holidays. After strolling down Occidental under the lights, it’s the perfect time of year to escape the cold rain or snow in one of our many local establishments. It’s the perfect balance of cold, winter atmosphere and warm, cozy restaurant that is something I never miss out on during the holiday season. 

  1. In Closing, any words of thanks from the Alliance to our community and partners?

The list of Thank You’s this year is very, very long. Despite all the challenges, so many of you continue to show up every day rooting for this neighborhood. Our business community and residents, partners, human service providers, visitors, construction teams, neighbors, the Alliance team, and boards are all to thank for ensuring this place matters. And despite all the challenges, I remain bullish on Pioneer Square