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Pike Place Market renovation: An ode to new plumbing, wiring

You paid for it, now please come enjoy it. That’s the message the Pike Place Market is sending out, as it wraps up three years and $69-million worth of renovations.

Unfortunately, if you're the proud executive in charge, the public probably won't notice much.

"The most significant parts of the renovations are behind the walls … the seismic upgrades, electrical improvements, all new plumbing," says Ben Franz-Knight, Executive Director of the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority.

If you know what it's like living through a remodel, you can sympathize. There’s not much they can show-off, even though a typical Seattle property owner is paying about $45 a year in taxes, for six years. It mostly looks like the same old sprawling, sloping, maze of a market.

There are new bathrooms and  elevators. Several restaurants got new kitchens. And, the seismic and "systems" work, right down to the boiler-room in the basement, are truly impressive.

The market has more than 500 shops and places to eat, and many of them had to close temporarily during construction. In January 2011, for example, the legendary Pike Place Fish Market shut down for five weeks, says Justin Hall, the assistant manager:

"It was an inconvenience. You get your kitchen redone and it sucks, you know what I mean, you want your kitchen. But, what are we going to get out of it? So, stay the course."

The fish market itself got new plumbing and new non-slippery floors, plus a little extra space. And it got the efficiencies and reassurance that come with new heating systems and structural bracing.

Across the brick-lined street, at Oriental Mart, there’s an all-new kitchen. Mila Apostle, the matriarch of the multi-generational family business, admits the old kitchen was sub-standard, so they used a federal loan to fix everything, while the rest of the building was torn up.

"We closed [the cafe] for almost a year," she says, "so, I went home to the Philippines, and stayed there for almost a year." The grocery side of the business stayed open, in a temporary location elsewhere in the market--a typical solution to keeping the market alive even while its bones and nerves were undergoing radical surgery.

According to Franz-Knight, only a few shops closed or moved out entirely, and those were already in financial trouble before the project started, in January 2009.

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Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.