Although Seattle didn't always support Paul Allen's vision, it came to embrace the idiosyncratic billionaire, share his passions and partner with him on real estate, sports and cultural ventures.
Seattle and the state of Washington have no shortage of monuments to Paul Allen and his extraordinary, eclectic mix of business, scientific and artistic interests.
Allen’s gifts are also seen in the farthest reaches of the globe, where the personal computing revolution spurred by Allen and Bill Gates continues to unfold and bring knowledge, opportunity and economic gains to developing countries.
Raised in Wedgwood, the son of a University of Washington librarian, Allen started his first software company with Gates when they were high school students at Lakeside. Allen went on to Washington State University and work in Boston as Gates was attending Harvard. That’s where they decided to start Microsoft.
“Paul foresaw that computers would change the world,” Gates recalled in a memorial statement on Monday. “Even in high school, before any of us knew what a personal computer was, he was predicting that computer chips would get super-powerful and would eventually give rise to a whole new industry. That insight of his was the cornerstone of everything we did together.”
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As the region mourns Allen’s passing on Monday, it’s an opportunity to celebrate these lasting contributions, as well as the curiosity and enthusiasm that shaped his life.
This is also a time for Seattle to reflect on whether its schools, neighborhoods, universities and political climate remain fertile ground for raising world-changing entrepreneurs.
Will this place encourage its next Paul Allen to stay, invest in the community and plant seeds for future growth, or will it become more tribal and divided, allowing opportunistic special interests to stoke resentment and demonize the successful? Allen’s legacy is the best argument for the former.
Although the region didn’t always support Allen’s vision, it eventually embraced the idiosyncratic billionaire, shared his passions and partnered with him on real estate, sports and cultural ventures.
In his own way, Allen hugged Seattle back, directing much of his philanthropy to the region, establishing research institutions in his hometown, generously supporting the UW and WSU and sharing his vast collections of rock memorabilia, technology and vintage airplanes with the public.
Allen also drove a hard bargain. In convincing him to save the Seahawks, the people of Washington state agreed to pay 70 percent of the cost of a new football stadium. Seattle voters also rejected Allen’s proposal for a grand park in South Lake Union, but the city ended up spending around $500 million on infrastructure supporting his development of offices and apartments there instead. More recently, Allen’s real estate company was chosen to lead a massive redevelopment of the Seattle Housing Authority’s priceless Yesler Terrace property overlooking Elliott Bay.
Pundits will debate who got the better end on some of these deals. But Seattle and the rest of the world are richer — and more fun — because of Paul Allen.