Forestry giant Weyerhaeuser announced plans Aug. 26 to sell its 430-acre suburban campus in Federal Way and, in 2016, move 800 employees to a new seven-story, 200,000 square-feet headquarters bordering Occidental Park. The building site, currently home to a parking lot, will be developed by Greg Smith’s Urban Visions.
At a press conference, Mayor Ed Murray said, “This is a game changer for Pioneer Square.”
Weyerhaeuser is one of the world’s largest corporation, ranking 320 on the Fortune 500, with $7.3 billion in sales and 13,000 employees in 10 countries. It owns seven million acres of timberlands in the United States and manages 14 million more in Canada. The company is moving to one of Seattle’s poorest neighborhoods.
Pioneer Square/International District is home to 5,502 people with a median household income of merely $15,956, according to 2012 U.S. Census data analyzed by the Downtown Seattle Association. By contrast, Seattle as a whole has a median household income of $67,100.
Ninety-two percent of Pioneer Square/I.D. households rent, while 48 percent of Seattleites own their own home.
Pioneer Square is also home to many human service providers including the Union Gospel Mission.
Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park has long been a flashpoint for conflict between homeless people and civic sanitizers. By day the park is dominated by people with nowhere else to go; at night, campers improvise sleeping quarters as best they can. For decades, city government and business associations have sought to clean up the park and drive the homeless out to other less visible locations.
At the press conference, Murray said, “We are working with [Weyerhaeuser] on issues of public safety.” Murray added, “Businesses want to be where creative people want to be, where there’s a vibrancy in the streets, in the art and in active, walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented neighborhoods – like Pioneer Square.
Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata said he’s heard concerns about how the multinational company will integrate into the neighborhood.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Licata, “but it can be done.”
Licata cited New York City’s Bryant Park as a model of open space used by both rich and poor. Bryant Park, Licata said, has been able to add recreational activities that attract more upscale residents while not chasing the homeless out of the park.
“The homeless don’t disappear but more people use the park,” he said.