A year after the 50th anniversary of the citizens initiative that saved Pike Place Market from plans by the city of Seattle to demolish most of it, the city is once again threatening the Market.
The city has submitted an ordinance, Council Bill 120456, that would remove public oversight and undermine the authority of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission. The commission has protected the Market successfully for 50 years. This ordinance must not apply to the Market.
In 2020, the Seattle City Council passed an emergency ordinance that provided temporary authority to Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON) staff to approve changes in the Pike Place Market Historical District and other historic districts, effectively replacing the judgment of the 12-member Pike Place Market Historical Commission. The ordinance granted this special authority because the historic district boards were temporarily unable to meet due to the pandemic. The emergency ordinance, along with the temporary staff authority, is set to expire Dec 31.
The citizens initiative established the commission in 1971. Commissioners are volunteers with relevant experience and commitment to making well-reasoned decisions on appropriate use and design changes in the Market. The commission’s deliberations are vital to preserve the Market’s character. For example, the commission makes sure chains and franchises like Burger King cannot rent a space in the Market.
The commission’s process is open to the public: The public reviews proposals, gives comments at public meetings, and appeals commission decisions. The Department of Neighborhoods process, on the other hand, takes place behind closed doors. The Market’s governance model, critical to preserving its character, has worked successfully for over 50 years.
Mayor Bruce Harrell has submitted legislation to the City Council that would permanently turn over the commission’s authority relating to the Market’s historical district to city staff. The commission expressed its opposition to the usurping of its authority by the city in a letter to the mayor and council on Aug. 10.
Giving the Department of Neighborhoods the authority to approve Market changes potentially behind closed doors would destroy the public’s ability to participate in the review of changes at the Market. It would subvert the commission’s authority and undermine its ability to preserve the Market.
The Pike Place Market Historical Commission has protected one of Seattle’s living treasures for half a century, providing an example of careful and responsive citizen administration. The future health of the Pike Place Market will be assured, not in replacing but reasserting the commission’s authority.
To preserve Pike Place Market as Seattle’s most authentic place, the Market Historical District must be removed from Council Bill 120456 in order to retain robust public oversight and the full authority of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission.