Pike Place Market officials do not want to inconvenience merchants and shoppers any more than necessary during a $73 million renovation project starting in the spring, but a few merchants are questioning the supposed conveniences that a new elevator will bring.
A $73 million renovation to Pike Place Market will begin next spring with an overriding objective: Limit as much as possible the disruption to people who shop and work there.
Much of the construction will focus on upgrading the Market’s aging electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling systems, with much of that work to take place overhead, inside walls, under floors and out of the way of crowds.
But some changes to public spaces also will be made, and one change — a new elevator along the back of the Market — has become a sore spot for a few merchants.
The merchants, however, are quick to emphasize that the elevator is only a small piece of the overall renovation, which they feel is needed desperately. They express gratitude to voters who passed the Market levy earlier this month with 61 percent approval.
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“There are those of us who have been concerned about the elevator, but we kept that talk to within the family,” said Sheila Lyon, co-owner of Market Magic, a shop in the Market’s DownUnder. “We didn’t want a bunch of public squabbling before the election that could have jeopardized passage of the levy.”
The challenge of Market officials to limit disruption — and keep merchants happy — could be difficult. A labyrinth of stalls, shops and various other sundries, the Market draws 10 million visitors a year into an atmosphere that, by design, already is chaotic. During the high season, visitors routinely tolerate bottlenecks and tight squeezes — and Market officials do not want to push the limits of Market-goers’ patience.
As part of the renovation’s first phase, a path connecting Western Avenue and the Market will be reconstructed. A large utility vault will be built across from the entrance to the Pike Street Hillclimb, on the Market side of Western. At the same time, a wooden staircase that rises from Western and services the DownUnder shops will be replaced with a new open-air staircase.
The new elevator will be built close by — the third serving that area of the Market.
The new staircase and elevator will combine to create a more inviting entry to the Market from the Western Avenue side, said James Haydu, marketing director for the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority.
“It behooves the Market to have bigger and more dependable vertical transportation from Western and better exposure from the waterfront,” he said.
But Lyon and two merchants whose stores are directly impacted by the new elevator are questioning its location — along the far southern end of the DownUnder. In designs that still are fluid, the elevator would open on the DownUnder floors facing walls instead of shops, and therefore create an uninviting first impression for new Market visitors, said Colleen Dyke, co-owner of Golden Age Collectables, which has sold comics and pop-culture merchandise in the DownUnder since 1971.
She doubts whether the new elevator can achieve one of its intended purposes — to increase foot traffic in the DownUnder.
The new elevator will take a small slice out of Golden Age Collectables and uproot another DownUnder shop, The Miniature Car Dealer, which will be relocated.
The location was chosen because it uses an existing elevator shaft, which currently services residences above the Market.
“But it was not our first choice,” Haydu said.
The first choice was a glass-enclosed elevator that would have run adjacent to the new stairwell, stopping just outside the DownUnder and servicing a new outdoor patio that also is part of the renovation. It would have terminated in the main arcade in an area just beyond some crafts tables, within a landing where visitors often congregate to take in views of Elliott Bay.
But the Pike Place Market Historical Commission shot down that option because it would block views and compromise the historic and architectural integrity of the landing.
Under the second-choice option, the new elevator will empty on the main arcade where Rotary Grocery’s cash registers are now.
“I don’t need the elevator but they are putting the elevator here,” said Henry Kim, the store’s owner.
Kim and Market officials are discussing how to reconfigure the store around the new elevator during and after construction. For stores losing square footage because of the renovation, the market will pay for a professional to help redesign the space.
“Construction can be messy, and we know that,” Haydu said. “We will do all we can to negate disruption. We do not take this lightly.”
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org