04 June 2023

Pacific Place, Seattle, WA

 A dead mall

The first time I walked into Pacific Place in the early 2000s, I was definitely left in awe.  I was bathed in sunlight from the large crescent shaped skylight hovering over the center of the mall while the natural glow coming through shined on the muted earth-tones and faux marble tiles above and around me.  There was a Barney’s New York, a Barnes & Noble, and rather large Tiffany’s that seemed to be hidden behind a vault-like entrance.  At the time, Seattle was very new to me and I was basking in this greatest of finds.

Pacific Place and the neighboring flagship Nordstrom in the early 2000s.

After moving to the Emerald City, Pacific Place was the closest shopping mall to where I took up residence.  On any given day I could be found browsing nationally known stores like GameStop, Eddie Bauer, William Sonoma, and Brookstone or grabbing a bite to eat at Gordon Biersch Brewing or Mexico City Tapas.  There was even a skywalk connected to Nordstrom’s flagship store across Sixth Avenue.

Pacific Place lease plan ca 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

Back then even the online presence of Amazon, whose headquarters are located just a few blocks away, didn’t seem to affect Pacific Place’s popularity.  It was still a sought-after destination for the ever-growing downtown population as well as for all of the tourists in town for an Alaska cruise, Pike Place Market or a disgusting wall covered in used gum.

1- The new main entrance.  2- Empty storefronts facing Pine Street.  3- The vacated entrance to Tiffany's.  4- The former entrance to Barnes & Noble.  5- The new entrance built into the mall's northern-most corner.  6- Just inside the new entrance.

But even what seemed to be a juggernaut of downtown retail would soon run into problems.  In 2014 the mall was purchased by Madison Marquette who, in the latter part of the decade, embarked on an ambitious reimagining of the mall’s interior.  Much of the mall was closed off and there was a rush of big names departing within a short time.  In fact, the only thing that didn’t take a short time was the renovation itself, which seemed to be going at a more than leisurely pace.

Shots of the center of the new interior in 2023.

Pacific Place itself was nothing more than an uninviting construction zone with very little reason to visit by this time.  The one store that kept me coming back, Barnes & Noble, went dark in January 2020. And eventually, although I lived and worked within walking distance, I just stopped going.  And I wasn’t the only one.  And all of this pre-dated the pandemic.

Pacific Place mallmanac ca 2016.  View the full PDF version here.

I can’t even say when the grand re-opening was.  One day I was just walking by and happened to notice someone walking out.  On my first visit after the renovation, I was left just as astounded as I was during my first visit nearly two decades before.  But this time for all of the wrong reasons.  The earth tones had been whitewashed down to something exhibiting all of the ambiance of a dentist’s waiting room.

Pacific Place mallmanac ca 2018.  View the full PDF version here.

There were maybe a dozen or so storefronts open at that time, but everything else was vacant.  It seemed in the blink of an eye the once dominant upscale urban retail center of Seattle had died.  Much of downtown’s streetside retail had departed as well, but the emptiness of Pacific Place was jarring.

1- Empty restaurant fronts on the fourth level. 2- More empty storefronts on the third level.  3- The second level. 4- The entrance to the skywalk leading to Nordstrom.  5- The basement level.  6- Looking up from the basement level.  

Pacific Place made its entrance just before the holiday shopping season of 1998.  With five total tiers, including a basement level in addition to a cineplex on top, it dwarfed the extant shopping hub of downtown and nearby neighbor Westlake Center.  With a skywalk leading to the fourth level of Nordstrom’s flagship store across Sixth Avenue, it quickly established itself as the upscale shopping hub of downtown Seattle. For nearly two decades, the complex saw continued success.  Unfortunately, like many of it’s city center peers, it started sliding in the late 2010s with it’s fate rushed by the coming pandemic.

Pacific Place lease plan ca 2023.  View the full PDF version here.

Though the recent renovations are, well, clean enough, they stripped the mall of all of its personality as well as tenants.  Though many other sectors of the economy have begun their recovery, since reopening in 2020, Pacific Place hasn’t gotten any better.  Management has focused on allowing art galleries and pop-up stores to slow the bleeding.  And though measures have seen some success, it seems Pacific Place’s best days are behind it.

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