With the backdrop of live classical music, a crowd gathered in Occidental Park in Pioneer Square in Seattle Wednesday to celebrate something new in the historic neighborhood: a 90-foot timber-and-glass pavilion. Designed by Olson Kundig architects, it anchors one end of the public plaza.
Many of those who spoke at the ribbon cutting called it a sign of renewal and rebirth after the effects of the pandemic on the city in general and on Pioneer Square specifically.
Seattle Parks Foundation President Rebecca Bear said a park in the city’s oldest neighborhood is one of the best places to spark a renewal.
“It’s so exciting that the heart of Seattle is getting rebirthed with both the old and the new,” Bear said.
On the other end of Occidental Square from the new pavilion is a historic totem pole and a recently built play area.
The pavilion was privately funded through donations to the Seattle Parks Foundation. Many of the donors are from longtime timber families. The headquarters of Weyerhaeuser, which began as a timber company in the Pacific Northwest in 1900, borders the park.
The glass-covered structure will be used for concerts and other events beginning this summer.
But speakers at the event acknowledged the challenges the area faces and has faced going back decades.
Even before the pandemic, some visitors were reluctant to go to Occidental Park because of concerns over drug dealing and harassment by people struggling with mental illness. The Seattle Parks Department, in conjunction with the Downtown Seattle Association, has tried to entice people back by adding activities, such as ping pong. And there are city ambassadors on hand to engage with park users and keep the space clean.
Business owners in the area see the opening of the pavilion as a good sign. Heather Hodge, co-owner of The Pastry Project, says for local businesses to thrive, the large contingent of office workers who populate the area in normal times needs to return.
“Hopefully, people will be so excited to get out of their homes and get out and do things, that business will be doing better than ever,” Hodge said.
If this event is any indication, there does seem to be a longing for a return to a semblance of normal.
Mayor Jenny Durkan seemed positively giddy as she described how great it was to see people without masks on.
And Jon Scholes, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, commented, “It feels damn good. I think as humans we like this. We like being around each other and seeing each other without masks and without screens in front of us.”
A sentiment city leaders are hoping a lot of Zoom-weary office workers agree with.