Mayor Punts on Seattle Center Development

And that’s good news for the Market.

Even as the Seattle Times eagerly recruits schoolchildren to redesign Seattle Center ("Now it's your turn!"), the mayor is telling folks to put away their crayons. After spending 18 months and some $1.2 million on its Century 21 Committee to yet again form a plan to rescue the Center from debt and obsolescence, Greg Nickels pushed the makeover back another two years. Instead of citizens voting this fall on a property-tax levy to fund a renovation, the Pike Place Market will take precedence, since its rehab is only projected to cost $75 million over six years. By contrast, the Center redo—in an ambitious scheme conceived by Seattle designers SRG Partnership—would run $676 million over an unknown number of years (likely a couple decades). Those plans include proposals both controversial—kill the Fun Forest?!?—and sensible, like reducing the hideous bulk of Center House, an old armory designed to store weapons, not people. Sometime between May and August, the City Council is expected to evaluate the Century 21 blueprint, which includes two huge, sports-related question marks: the presumably soon-to-be-Sonics-less KeyArena, and the decrepit Memorial Stadium (built in 1948 on land the city deeded to Seattle Public Schools for a pittance and now wants back). The Key is about to lose all its Sonics-related revenue; and even at Bumbershoot, when concertgoers fill Memorial Stadium, all the revenue is split between event organizer One Reel and SPS, which also pays for the upkeep (such as it is). "It's a wash," says interim Seattle Center spokesperson Deborah Daoust. "Seattle Center doesn't have any expenses associated with the stadium, and doesn't receive any revenue at all." In the future, subject to city-SPS negotiation and pending approval of the Century 21 plan that would build a new multi-use stadium on top of an underground parking garage, Daoust adds that the city "would love to rent [the redesigned stadium] out for concerts." In the '80s, the notion that Seattle Center might actually pay for itself resulted in a thoroughly commercial, roundly reviled plan from Disney to turn it into a theme park. Today, it's expected to operate with some small subsidy from the city. But $676 million in new spending when we still owe $26.5 million from the city's share of the 1995 KeyArena makeover? No wonder the friendly fish-throwers at the market look more attractive.

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