Fortson Square Redevelopment

What's Happening Now?

We are currently in the design phase of the project and the design is nearly complete.

Updated design concepts for the plaza were shared at the Pioneer Square Preservation Board. 

Graphic showing finalized design

Fortson Square, overlooking staircase and treescape


We're transforming Fortson Square to bring the community’s vision to life! The triangular piece of land (it’s not actually a square!) in Pioneer Square will become an indigenous-centered public open space. The redesigned plaza, with a gathering circle and native planting, will be used as an inside-outside space for formal and informal gatherings adjacent to Chief Seattle Club. It will serve as a space to rest and to engage with community and the history of Pioneer Square.   

In conjunction with the plaza redesign, Chief Seattle Club commissioned the carving of a new 25-foot welcome figure carved by Squaxin Island Tribe member Andrea Wilbur Sigo to be placed on the northwest corner of the plaza. SDOT is partnering with the community to help facilitate the placing of the welcome figure. SDOT is also supporting Chief Seattle Club’s proposal to rename the plaza to Vi Hilbert Commons, honoring an Upper Skagit native elder who was instrumental in the conservation of the Lushootseed culture and its language. 

Plaza History 

Image of Little Crossing Place before colonization

Image of Little Crossing Over Place, after colonization

Images adapted from "Djidjila'letch to Pioneer Square," produced by The Waterlines Project, Burke Museum (courtesy WSDOT)

Significant indigenous history predates the area currently known as Fortson Square. It was once part of a tidal lagoon where a Duwamish winter village existed. But what was once a place where water met the shore gave way to artificial shores and sea walls. The area became a shipping bay and port. And the Duwamish peoples were banished from living in the city limits.

The Vision

This Fortson Square redesign seeks to put some of the indigenous narrative back into the history of Pioneer Square. This project is an example of a co-created public space improvement where SDOT is helping to bring the community’s vision to reality. You can learn more about the project from the community’s perspective here.  

Project Background

project location map of Fortson Square

Fortson Square is a roughly 5,000 square foot public space within the right-of-way. The square is bordered by active building façades, wide sidewalks, and a protected bike lane along its longest edge. There are no formal seating options, with the stairs frequently used as makeshift seating. Pedestrian access through the plaza is diminished by uneven brick pavers, lending little to no opportunity for visitors to comfortably stay in the space.    

In 2020, SDOT completed a Public Life Action plan urban design assessment that noted the following:   

  • The current plaza design does not adequately support or encourage lingering and social activity, even though this is the most observed activity in the space 
  • People do not feel Fortson Square is a safe or inviting space 

The recent redevelopment of the Chief Seattle Club’s ?ÁL?AL building at 420 2nd Ave Ext S presented a timely opportunity to redesign and improve this small but important public space.   

The new ?ÁL?AL building includes 80 affordable housing studios for homeless households and veterans. The project includes gathering spaces, a primary care health clinic, both job training and education spaces, and a vibrant café/art gallery storefront facing Fortson Square. The square and the new development together have the potential to create a welcoming eastern gateway into Pioneer Square.   

Noting this opportunity, community stakeholders led by Alliance for Pioneer Square and Chief Seattle Club came together to develop a concept design supported by Historic South Downtown, ex-Council Member Sally Bagshaw, SDOT, and a 10-15 person working group. Subsequently, Council identified budget for SDOT to help advance the community concept to 100 percent design and construction. The project is currently working towards 60 percent design. 

Public Outreach Materials 

See how we’ve been working with the community to turn this vision into a reality: 

Related Links 


Greg Spotts, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 3800, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34996, Seattle, WA, 98124-4996
Phone: (206) 684-7623

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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.