At Pike Place Market, $68.6 million in renovations are nearly complete, with new beams bracing the old buildings, new elevators to improve access and new public restrooms.

Share story

Almost three years to the day since construction started, the $68.6 million in renovations to the Pike Place Market are nearly complete and ready to welcome the public.

The historic 1907 Market, which sees about 10 million visitors each year, doesn’t look much different, and that’s the way planners envisioned it. New steel beams brace the old buildings. There are new elevators for improved access and new public restrooms.

But the shiny new duct work, stainless-steel pipes and electrical conduits are mostly behind walls and between beams.

“The Market is safer, stronger and more accessible, but it still looks like the Market that you know and love,” said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority, which oversaw the work.

Seattle voters in 2008 approved a six-year property-tax levy to fund critical repairs and improvements. It cost the owner of a $420,000 house about $37 per year.

At the height of construction, as many as 30 businesses and vendors were relocated or shut down, some working out of trailers, as contractors rewired and rerouted major electrical systems, replaced rusted cast-iron plumbing and reinforced buildings to bring them up to modern seismic standards.

Even with the disruption, all the merchants came back, said Franz-Knight.

At Pike Place Fish, where the workers famously sling salmon, the old tiles that were slippery when wet have been replaced with a nonslip flooring. The business got all new plumbing and a new storage shed in the rear.

Though the business closed for five weeks in January and February of 2011, “It was a big improvement that needed to get done,” said Justin Hall, assistant manager.

The old floor tiles in the main arcade, engraved with the names of donors, broke under the weight of deliveries and allowed water to leak into the stores below. They’ve been cataloged and most have been reinstalled elsewhere in the Market. Across the street at Oriental Mart, where a lively paper snake has startled and delighted children since 1971, the three generations of Mila Apostol’s family got a brand new kitchen and steam table to display the chicken adobo and fish sinigang, a Filipino soup sour with tamarind.

Improvements to individual businesses were not funded through the levy, but with federal tax credits available to community-development organizations such as the Market.

Around the corner, a big new bathroom features the same black-and-white tile work of the Market’s — and the city’s — original public restrooms. The tiles show people in silhouette “in varying stages of urgency,” said Duncan Thieme, with SRG Partnership, the project architects.

Upstairs, at Matt’s in the Market, giant steel braces now reinforce the building’s interior. For seven months, restaurant customers had to use a temporary entrance that walled off the construction work.

“We definitely had ups and downs,” said owner Dan Bugge. “The upside was how well the architect and contractors coordinated the work with us to keep us open the whole time.”

On the Western Avenue side of the Market, a new elevator rises up to Post Alley. A wider hill climb features textured concrete to replicate the look of the Market’s original timbers.

And a new pig, Rachel’s friend Billie, sits at the new, improved western entrance.

“No part of the Market was untouched,” said Franz-Knight. “Now we want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to the people of Seattle and invite them to come down and take a look.”

Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.