Even when Seattleite Ben Franz-Knight, ’96, was living in Southern California the past 11 years, he had his sights set on returning to Pike Place Market. Not just to shop—but to maybe run the place one day.
Today, his dream has come true.
This fall, Franz-Knight, 37, began his new job as executive director of the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority, the organization that oversees the 103-year-old Seattle institution.
He returns to Seattle after seven years as executive director of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp., which ran the historic Santa Monica Pier, a major tourist attraction in the Los Angeles area.
How did someone who graduated from the University of Washington in 1996 with a B.F.A. in sculpture get in position to run not one but two beloved, major community organizations? He credits his schooling.
“At the UW, it didn’t matter what coursework you were enrolled in, or what department,” Franz-Knight says. “The expectations for performance and work ethic were really excellent. In the sculpture department, a lot of thought was required to make our creations. It was the strategic thinking, critical thinking, that really helped me.”
He also helped himself by getting hands-on experience in the business world as a bike mechanic at the ASUW bike shop, and later as its manager. He also worked as a buyer for a local bike shop.
“That mix of creative thinking and real-world business experience, along with a healthy dose of navigating political waters, gave me great skills,” he says.
When he and his wife, Kira, ’98, moved to Los Angeles 11 years ago so she could pursue a career in costume design, Franz-Knight landed a temp job at the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corp.
There, he worked his way up to administrative assistant and ultimately to executive director. But he always kept his eye on Seattle, and when Carol Binder stepped down as Pike Place Market’s leader in 2010, Franz-Knight leapt at the opportunity.
Now, he’s home—his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles live here—and he is thrilled to be involved in one of the area’s most cherished landmarks.
I came from here, I grew up here, I understand the importance of Pike Place Market,” Franz-Knight says. “I don’t have an agenda for the market beyond making sure it continues to strive and be here for generations to come.”