Zynga's new home at the Washington Shoe Building (Keith Tyler photo)

Pioneer Square is undergoing a major transformation as high-tech companies such as Isilon, Zynga and Blue Nile set up shop in the historic Seattle district. KING 5 takes a deeper look at what’s going on, noting that despite cruddy Internet service and a “lingering reputation as a haven for drug dealers” the neighborhood continues to attract high-tech tenants.

In fact, KING 5 notes that more than a third of the office space in the neighborhood is now occupied by tech companies.

Here’s a look at the KING 5 report:

Heck, Pioneer Square is now even home to a venture capital firm. Maveron, founded by Dan Levitan and Starbucks Chairman Howard Schutlz, occupies space at 411 First Avenue South.

Known for its funky brick buildings, Pioneer Square has long attracted tech startups. Companies such as Gist, Evri, Yapta, Payscale and others have called the neighborhood home for years. (In fact, GeekWire’s Web developer, Foundry Interactive, is located in the neighborhood, and we can attest to the spotty Internet service).

But some bigger companies are moving in too, including Zynga which just opened doors on a new engineering office with room for as many as 35 workers. Isilon is planning to set up shop just north of the historic Triangle Pub later this year, occupying a massive 140,000 square foot facility at 505 First Avenue South.

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  • Glenn Fleishman

    Amazon’s second office (after its SoDo location) over near the market was right at the center of the heroin district and across from the methadone clinic (late 90s). We had to shoo out people shooting up all the time.

    • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

      Yeah, and some of those shooting up were key early engineering contributors, right Glenn? ;-)

      I miss Columbia building, and Scary Teriyaki. Loved it.

      • Glenn Fleishman

        I was fortunately a vegetarian back then!

  • rickg

    Well, let’s note that Aldus was there and occupied much of 83 King etc way before any of the startups. Tech in Pioneer Square isn’t a new thing and isn’t really driven by the startups. It’s an inexpensive (relatively) neighborhood, has the attraction of being basically downtown without paying highrise rents and the buildings have more character than the typical high rise or office park complex.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Warren/655572493 Jason Warren

    HTC is also opening/expanding an office focused on web services development for Sense, caddy-corner from Zeitgeist. We’ve been building a team, and are growing quickly. Looking forward to moving into our new digs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=651706656 Mike Porter

    I am skeptical of calling this a “Resurgence” the same thing happened in 1999 during the Dot Com 1 Boom.

  • http://twitter.com/crenelle MichaelBrianBentley

    I love that neighborhood, it reminds me of several areas in the city of Chicago I used to hang out in. But there’s a big difference between Chicago and Seattle, in that Chicago doesn’t often get large earthquakes while Seattle can, so I look at the Pioneer Square buildings with some trepidation. They’ve survived so far, yesssss.

  • http://www.yapta.com/ Tom Romary

    Yapta has been in Pioneer Square since Oct 2006. Our first office in the Metropole building was gutted in a fire in May ’07 the day we launched (an 1880’s brownstone across from Smith Tower), so worked out of Zeitgeist for a couple weeks. Despite that challenge, we really love Pioneer Square and are now situated comfortably in the Washington Shoe Building…internet actually seems fine to me. Public transportation into Pioneer Square is good (bus routes). The option to walk 5 minutes to Safeco Field to catch an evening M’s game for $8 bleacher seats during the summer is great too. There are two economies in Pioneer Square that people working “start up hours” need to be aware of: The 7am to 8pm economy is pretty mainstream and mostly safe — vibrant business environment, lots of start up companies, great locations for lunch/dinner or ‘offsite’ meetings. Temple Billiards is a favorite post-work venue for Yaptonians. We used to look out the window from Metropole in amusement at the occasional drug bust in broad daylight — the police brought in the horses a couple of times, but only once did I ever see guns drawn. If you’re leaving the office late (and I’ve had my fair share of almost all-nighters), the “evening economy” is also thriving and potentially dangerous: drug dealers, drug addicts, etc. I’ve had my car broken into twice (windows smashed), and had my gym bag stolen…good lesson not to leave anything in your car. So my advice: don’t leave the office too late (hard to do all the time at a start up tech company), or pay for secure parking in your building. Yapta actually provides its employees a ‘commuting allowance’ monthly to pay for parking, bus passes to help employees w/getting to Pioneer Square safely. A few of our employees bike to work right down Jackson or along Alaska Way. All in all, great place to be.

    • johnhcook

      I remember the Yapta launch day (and fire) really well. Recall my story, and lead:
      “Yapta is bringing new meaning to the phrase burn rate. The Seattle startup, which plans to unveil its online travel service Tuesday, received unexpected news early today when its Pioneer Square headquarters building caught on fire. ”


      Great tips Tom. Thanks for sharing. I peaked in your office a few weeks ago when I was snooping around on the Zynga story. Next time, I will say hi.

      I love all of the history in Pioneer Square. I hope that gets preserved.

      • http://www.yapta.com/ Tom Romary

        Really cool to read that blog post again. I always believed that Yapta would set the world on fire…but at the time, I just didn’t anticipate it would happen in our office. Thanks for sharing John!

  • Brian Ratzliff

    I’ll echo Rick and Tom’s comments about Pioneer Square. WhatCounts was located in the heart of PS, on Occidental Ave for about 6 years, and on the fringe, at 5th and Jackson for 3 years.

    During that time, there were many startups that moved in and out, mostly because the landlords are willing to create divisable and affordable space. That’s a huge benefit to the area, and not one you find in most of the other commercial properties in town. I would say this is the #1 reason for so many young startups locating there.

    Commuting into the area is fantastic with lots of bus, light rail, and Sounder trains arriving regularly. If you drive a vehicle, parking in the north lot of Seahawk Stadium is some of the most reasonable space in town.

    Finally, there are plenty of lunch options in the area, and there’s constant viewing action with all the drug and homeless activity. There’s plenty of police presence, so security really isn’t that big of an issue.

    John – in addition to the companies you mentioned, don’t forget larger one’s like ShareBuilder who have moved in.

    I’d also agree with Rick about disaster preparedness…in the event of a 7.5+, if the falling bricks don’t get you, you’d better have your track shoes on so you can race up the hill and beat the tsunami. I know almost all the buildings are retro-fitted, but it’s still largely fill land.

    – Brian

  • Bob Silver

    Talk about Back to the Future. This trend feels so… so… 1996!

    Pioneer Square was home to The Silver Company for five years. I had many of the same fears about crime and panhandling when we relocated from downtown, but it turns out to be a terrific location. We survived the big quake and one break-in, and still managed to do great work for a number of clients that were a stone’s throw from our office.

    Maybe the neighborhood ain’t the same w/out Elliott Bay Books, Soup Daddy and No. 1 Teriyaki. But it’s hard to find a better place for a meeting on a summer afternoon than the tables in front of Caffe Umbria (Torrrefazione) or a better place to seal a deal than over a cup of coffee at Zeitgeist.

    • rickg

      Hold on… Soup Daddy’s gone?!?! Nooooo….

      • http://www.yapta.com/ Tom Romary

        Huge bummer, indeed! Loved Soup Daddy. But don’t despair, it’s now the expanded version of “Pizza Pro”. And Tat’s has also expanded, so we can all still get access to good healthy grub.

  • Brendenw

    Teleca’s right on the corner across from Sharebuilder. We still have Aldus labels on the switch panels. Oh, and those Lockerz folks upstairs are pretty loud.

    Best neighborhood feature – Ride the Ducks coming past your window every 1/2 hour.

  • http://twitter.com/getmoai Get Moai

    Pioneer Square was hip during the last boom, when you had to carry mace or pack heat just to get to your car, and you could watch crack deals in the alley behind WatchGuard, or live porn being filmed above the Starbucks courtesy of Seth Warshavksy and Derek Newman at IEG. It’s kind of old news now.

    You’ve got to come to SLU for all the hot startup action. You can hang out at Founders Co-Op/TechStars, or eat cheap by tailgating Amazon employees into their staff cafeteria. Watch the scene where Picard walks undetected amongst the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact if you need tips on that last one though. Those Amazonians can turn on you in a minute!

    • http://twitter.com/toddhooper Todd Hooper

      Although to give them credit, those Pioneer Square startups probably know enough to login to the right Twitter account before posting!

    • johnhcook

      I remember Seth Warshavsky’s porn operation down there in Pioneer Square. Weren’t they above the Pyramid Alehouse for a while? Great comment, Todd. (I recognized it was you).

      • http://twitter.com/toddhooper Todd Hooper

        Google says you are correct about Pyramid Alehouse, but I seem to remember the support team at 316 Occidental had a direct view into a studio above the Starbucks on the corner of S Jackson.

        Seth went from the front page of the WSJ to being a federal fugitive in just a few years. Seattle 2.0 should name an award after him!

        • johnhcook

          You know an awful lot about this Todd. :) Actually, the company was
          pretty huge at one point, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they had
          multiple locations.

    • http://twitter.com/Nanostring Nanostring Founder

      “crack deals in the alley behind WatchGuard, or live porn being filmed above the Starbucks”

      Oh, great! So I did everything wrong when I started nanoString: took money from the wrong folks; picked the wrong location, with no crack and no live-porn… :)

  • http://www.naffziger.net/blog davenaff

    We love the neighborhood and don’t really mind the drug dealers (and hey twitter has way more of them in their new neighborhood).

    However, the Internet options are embarrasing. We’re in the same building as Foundry and our only Internet options are Qwest DSL and Qwest T1.

    Funny that even though Comcast doesn’t serve the neighborhood, it doesn’t stop them from direct mailing us and calling regularly…

  • RobertinSeattle

    Perhaps it’s always been the funky flavor of Pioneer Square that appeals to so many startups. Maybe like a Haight-Ashbury for dot-coms? But I’d also have to agree that the old brick architecture will probably be a nightmare when the next big earthquake finally hits us – it’s not so much a question of ‘íf’ but more a matter of ‘when.’

    I still recall making up a Top 10 List to appeal to one recruit we were trying to lure away from a Pioneer Square company in the late 90’s during that first boom. Number 1 was his favorite from my list: Over here in Downtown Bellevue, we don’t have entryways that smell like pee in the morning!

    I’ve since moved over to the Seattle side and am considering startup space down in Georgetown.

  • johnhcook

    There may be hope for high-speed Internet in Pioneer Square after all. The city is using the cavernous “underground’ — the old 19th century network of passageways — to bring fiber optic cable to the neighborhood.

    I kid you not. Pretty amazing stuff.


  • http://www.duncanhaley.com John Haley

    I’ve had my company here since ’98 and we love it. Leaving late can get a little sporty from time to time. I’m glad they retrofited our building…at least the one brick behind the 2″ by 2″ steel plate will be safe :).

    Disaster recovery plan, check. The “cloud” has made that pretty easy for us.

  • Jason Thane

    Sorry, guys, *Fremont* is Seattle’s hottest tech neighborhood. Booya!

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