With major renovations to the Space Needle and possibly KeyArena already in the offing, the just-announced collaboration between the city of Seattle and Seattle Public Schools must be the centerpiece of comprehensive plans to revitalize Seattle Center.
Seattle’s great influx of people, driving rapid commercial and residential building growth, is making the revitalization of Seattle Center a high priority. As every beam gets laid, as every floor is completed in our many new 40-story office and residential towers, every inch of Seattle Center’s space becomes more valuable.
Seattle Center is our gathering place, it is our city’s heart and soul. The 74-acre campus, which provides precious venues and open space for thousands of cultural events, educational activities and civic gatherings, is poised for significant improvements. This includes Oak View Group’s proposed new arena under the preserved historical roof of KeyArena, major upgrades to the Space Needle, Seattle Opera’s new home that opens up to Mercer Street, and a partnership between Seattle Public Schools and the city of Seattle to revamp Memorial Stadium. Given all of this, it is time to develop a comprehensive, aspirational, bold plan for the whole of Seattle Center, a vision that honors its founding as our embrace of the future.
Seattle Center’s rich history dates back to the 1962 World’s Fair. It has hosted Bumbershoot, Festàl and many other festivals; Pacific Northwest Ballet and its delightful “Nutcracker” shows; the “Dota 2” video-game championships; and various professional and collegiate sporting events. And the grounds themselves have drawn millions of Seattleites and out-of-town guests to enjoy the sights and sounds, including the popular International Fountain. Research shows that people from every neighborhood in Seattle — all ages, cultures, ethnicities and incomes — use and love Seattle Center. In fact, nine in 10 voters agree that Seattle Center is an important community asset which enhances our quality of life.
A recent economic-impact study documented Seattle Center’s contributions as a regional asset: $1.86 billion in total economic impact, with more than 12 million annual visits, 16,000 events, 18,600 jobs, $90 million in tax receipts and $815 million in visitor spending per year.
During this booming economic time, we must take bold steps like we’ve seen in other cities that have created and re-created amazing public spaces — think Chicago’s Millennium Park; New York City’s Central Park, Lincoln Center and Battery Park; Atlanta’s Beltline; and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Seattle Center is our version of all of those rolled into one unique space, located in a dynamic, growing urban neighborhood that will link our new central waterfront, South Lake Union, downtown, Uptown and Belltown neighborhoods.
We must commit to “redesign, retool and reinvest” to make Seattle Center more vibrant, accessible, adaptable and financially sustainable. We must develop an open campus which serves the diverse population of the region and students of Seattle. Thanks to the just-announced collaboration between the city and Seattle Public Schools, we could finally see new school facilities, a new stadium and spectacular open space where the aging Memorial Stadium now sits. This city/Seattle Public Schools agreement must be the centerpiece of a comprehensive plan to revitalize Seattle Center.
The launchpad of this vision is a new arena and what it can deliver — expanded music offerings, and a home for the WNBA, NHL and NBA. Seattle is at a unique moment in time with Oak View Group poised to deliver a privately financed rebuild of KeyArena and the expertise to develop and operate a world-class arena that will reflect the technology and ambition of our great city.
Let’s launch our most engaging civic space into its next chapter, and fulfill Seattle Center’s mission to serve as the 21st century heartbeat of Seattle.