To Market, to Market

How Seattle attorneys gave us even more to love about the city’s favorite shopping destination

Published in 2017 Washington Super Lawyers — July 2017

Many cities have a beloved public market whose sights, sounds and smells are encoded in their DNA—from Paris’ Les Halles to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. In Seattle, of course, it’s Pike Place Market, home of a good-luck bronze pig named Rachel, world-famous flying fish and the original Starbucks. 

This summer, the market debuts a grand expansion, dubbed MarketFront, on the site of a former parking lot west of the main market, on the tumbledown slope above the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This was the Pike Place Market Historical District’s last untamed frontier.  

The $74 million project creates more space for farmers, crafters, artists and artisan producers; new low-income senior housing; extra parking; and a stunning view of Seattle’s waterfront and the Olympics beyond. Eventually, it will include a walkway to a new Elliott Bay park.  

“When the city first came out with ideas for redeveloping the [market] area, tied to the completion of the Alaskan Way tunnel, the images showed a massive structure,” says business litigator James Savitt, with Savitt Bruce & Willey, who chaired the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority at the time. “We said, ‘That doesn’t look like the market.’ Some of us saw this as a chance to get ahead of the design for the market’s future.” 

Founded in 1907 to bring shoppers directly to farmers, the market was a wild success. Its farmers included a large contingent of Japanese-Americans, who suffered during the World War II internment, which also devastated the market. Pike Place took additional hits from the mid-century population flight from downtown areas.

“When I was young, the market was a little bit shabby,” recalls real estate attorney B. Gerald Johnson with Pacifica Law Group. “Seattle as a whole was rougher then, not as chic. But the market was so unique and defining—I’ve always felt that it was Seattle’s heart and soul.” 

Johnson was instrumental in organizing the 2008 levy proposal that laid the groundwork for MarketFront. He has been general counsel to the PDA for 30 years. Twenty-five years ago, he helped form the Market Foundation, which funds services and housing for its low-income neighbors. In the 1960s, a proposal to replace the market spurred a public outcry and lengthy preservation effort. Johnson volunteered for the Save the Market Initiative as a college student in the 1970s. 

But then the Manhattan backers of loans for the restoration decided in the ’80s to redevelop the market area. “There was a sense that some high-powered New York lawyers would come in and take advantage of Seattle, but we prevailed in court and cemented the local ownership,” says appellate attorney Paul J. Lawrence, with Pacifica Law Group. He was lead litigator, along with Fred Tausend. Lawrence adds with a laugh, “I remember during the deliberations one of The Urban Group’s investors saying, ‘We hired the wrong lawyers.’” 

Fast-forward to 2009, when Savitt and the PDA proposed using the parking lot for an expansion that would preserve the market’s rambunctious, charming, rough-around-the edges essence. It was a wild but fruitful process: “The market community is filled with people who are tremendously passionate about its history and present, and everyone thinks they deserve a say.” Savitt made it clear that everyone would have a say. The PDA held more than 200 animated discussions. “You have to listen and bend,” he says, “and aim for greatness.” 

Construction litigator Tom Wolfendale, with K&L Gates, created contract documents for the renovations. “Expanding while keeping the market open and viable was pretty tricky,” Wolfendale recalls. Groundbreaking took place in June 2015. 

“It’s much more than a community asset,” Wolfendale says. “It’s a community gem.” 

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