In one of the largest gifts to a local arts or cultural organization, the Tateuchi Foundation is giving $25 million toward the creation of what was formerly called the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE) and will now be called the Tateuchi Center.

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In one of the largest gifts to an arts or cultural organization in this area, the Tateuchi Foundation is giving $25 million toward the creation of a 2,000-seat performance center in downtown Bellevue — a longtime dream of some Eastside leaders.

The gift reinvigorates the capital campaign for what was formerly called the Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE), and will now be called the Tateuchi Center.

“It’s pretty much what rocket fuel means to a rocket,” said John Haynes, the center’s executive director and CEO. “It’s the kind of expression of faith and passion for a project that ignites other donors.”

There have been various attempts to build such a center for decades, and in 2002, a group of prominent Eastside business and civic leaders formed a nonprofit board to start raising money for it. Fundraising, though, has been slower than they had hoped, and groundbreaking has been delayed several times.

But with the Tateuchi Foundation gift, the center has raised $60 million toward its $160 million goal, and organizers expect the contribution to spur other donors. Organizers hope to break ground in summer 2011 and to open in September 2013.

“This project has been waiting for a major donation that convinces the rest of the community that this will be built,” said James Tune, president and CEO of ArtsFund, which raises money for the arts in Western Washington. “This should do it.”

A rare opportunity

The Tateuchi grant ranks among the area’s biggest gifts so far to arts organizations.

Seattle Art Museum received $25 million each from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Jon and Mary Shirley Foundation for its capital campaign for the Olympic Sculpture Park and downtown expansion. The McCaw family donated $20 million toward the establishment of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at Seattle Center. Jack and Becky Benaroya gave $15 million toward what became Benaroya Hall.

The opportunity to name a performing-arts center of this size comes along rarely. The Tateuchi Foundation saw it as “a unique, onetime opportunity to create a very prominent legacy for Mr. Tateuchi, who really felt like he had an opportunity to use the wealth he’d accumulated to make cross-cultural impacts,” said Daniel Asher, foundation administrator.

The Seattle-based foundation was created by Japanese businessman Atsuhiko Tateuchi, founder of the human-resources consulting agency Drake Beam Morin-Japan, and his wife, Ina Goodwin Tateuchi.

He died in 2007. Ina Goodwin Tateuchi lives in Bellevue.

Previous gifts from the foundation have established the Tateuchi Galleries at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Tateuchi Plaza at the Seattle Public Library and the Tateuchi Viewing Pavilion at the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

Of the $25 million gift, $22 million will go toward the capital campaign and $3 million will go toward programming — especially programs that support Japanese and Japanese-inspired performances.

Atsuhiko Tateuchi “saw art as a window on different cultures and felt a strong commitment for all of us to have better cross-cultural understanding,” said Mimi Gates, director emerita of the Seattle Art Museum.

Land donated in 2002

The Eastside performance-center project has faced its share of challenges since developer Kemper Freeman donated $8 million worth of land at Northeast 10th Street and 106th Avenue Northeast in 2002.

Project leaders hoped to break ground in 2006, but that plan was pushed back several times because of, among other factors, personnel changes, rising costs as the scope of the project expanded, and the recession.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a demand, Haynes says.

He says his research shows some Eastside residents may be less willing to go to Seattle performances because of traffic, parking and other hassles.

In the meantime, the Eastside has grown, while some of its biggest performance venues seat around 400.

For many bigger arts groups and touring productions, a theater would have to seat more than that in order to break even.

Tateuchi Center plans to host touring Broadway shows, jazz and classical musicians, dance groups and cultural performances, as well as some Seattle- and Eastside-based groups.

In addition to the 2,000-seat concert hall, where the space can be adjusted to accommodate smaller audiences, there will be a 250-seat, cabaret-style venue.

Janis Wold, board president of Bellevue Philharmonic, says performing in a large venue is more cost-effective than performing at Meydenbauer Center, and would allow the orchestra to increase its audience.

For now, Haynes says, he won’t break ground until he’s raised enough to guarantee financing to finish the project. In today’s more conservative lending climate, he thinks that means they’ll have to raise $80 million more.

The Tateuchi Foundation gift, he says, makes that task just a bit easier.

“In any sizable capital campaign, there is an early period of hanging back or skepticism, of: ‘Let’s wait and see,’ ” Haynes said. “This is the kind of gift that pushes you over that.”

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com.