A market for the Eastside’s first, large-scale performing-arts center is clear to those who have spent more than a decade planning to build the Tateuchi Center in downtown Bellevue.
The area has a ballooning population full of highly educated, multicultural and wealthy potential patrons who might love going to a professional symphony, ballet or Broadway musical without having to battle Seattle traffic. A growing number of Seattle residents who work on the Eastside might be wooed into staying for weekday evening performances, too.
The audience is there. The money needed to build the $180 million, 2,000-seat theater is not.
But a recently created public-private partnership between the city of Bellevue and the center-to-be’s board may soon bolster its fundraising campaign that kicked off in 2007.
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A group that includes city staff and several local politicians is discussing what public-financing options could help revive efforts to pool more large, private donations for the venue’s construction.
After an extensive public outreach effort begins next month and extends into next spring, group members say it’s possible a city or even countywide ballot measure could surface. About $65 million has been raised so far and Tateuchi (pronounced tat-eh-oo-chee) Center Executive Director John Haynes estimates about $115 million more will be needed for the project to break ground at Northeast 10th Street and 106th Avenue Northeast, alongside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue.
The shortage of funds has not reduced the ambitious vision for the center. The current design for the five-story venue includes an acoustically advanced theater, a cabaret-type lounge area where people could drink and eat while listening to live music and a contemporary, environmentally friendly design aimed at achieving gold status as a green facility.
Haynes has been a staunch guardian of that vision since he was brought to Bellevue in 2007 to lead a project that will likely cap his four decades in entertainment management. He’s proud of his accomplishments, but there was that blip while he was programming producer at CBS: He asserted that the TV show “M*A*S*H” would never be a hit. It then went on to become exactly that, winning eight Golden Globes, and remains a classic decades later.
“It’s nice to be reminded of how wrong you can be,” Haynes said, laughing at the memory.
But he’s sure he’s right about what he thinks the Tateuchi Center needs to become: a place where diverse threads of the Eastside’s artistic and cultural entities can finally be interwoven with other Seattle arts groups to build a wider audience.
He doesn’t think the project’s bad luck so far means that its future is cursed — far from it.
Haynes arrived in Bellevue in 2007 hot off the successful construction of a new performing-arts center for the University of Notre Dame.
In Bellevue, it seemed at first that fundraising for what was then called the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE) was starting off on the right foot with private donors beginning to line up. PACE board and staff hoped they would break ground in three to four years.
Instead, the recession that hit in 2008 brought the campaign’s momentum to a grinding halt. For two years, the PACE board and staff didn’t even attempt raising money and focused on refining design.
The fundraising effort staggered out of the recession with a few big wins, including one of the largest gifts made ever made to an arts organization in the Pacific Northwest, a $25 million donation from the Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation, for which the center is now named.
“It’s pretty much what rocket fuel means to a rocket,” Haynes told The Seattle Times when the donation was announced. “It’s the kind of expression of faith and passion for a project that ignites other donors.”
But it didn’t. This year, PACE’s board — a diverse group that includes members from Microsoft and developer Kemper Freeman — had to invest $600,000 of their own money in the project just to keep it staffed through the next two years.
The effort to garner more, large private donations stagnated, prompting the PACE board to explore public financing. In May, the Bellevue City Council unanimously approved a public partnership with PACE by creating a group that would explore options for funding the center’s construction.
The City Council’s lead liaison on the project, John Stokes, said the city is leaving “no stone left unturned” when looking at various ways to get more public funding for the theater.
“The recession took the wind out of everything, and now is the time to make this happen,” said Stokes.
The city of Bellevue plans to hold community forums to discuss the proposed project. An outreach plan will begin to take more shape at a Bellevue Arts Commission meeting Tuesday, according to Mary Pat Byrne, a city of Bellevue arts specialist. She expects community forums about the theater to begin this fall.
If the theater is publicly financed, it will have to be available for public events, Stokes said. In addition to expensive shows, the theater would have to regularly offer more affordable options for the general public.
Chris Salomone, Bellevue’s director of planning and community engagement, said the City Council likely won’t make any serious public financing decisions until next spring.
Salomone said there’s no money in the city’s budget for the theater this year and the city wants to get a better idea of what the general public thinks of the potential theater.
“I haven’t seen this presented to the public much yet, so I think it’s still a mystery to a lot of people,” he said. “And some of the mysteries surrounding it are going to be dispelled when we get out there.”