Seattle Center future under scrutiny

A second public meeting was held April 17 about the future of the Seattle Center for the next 20 years, and a series of architectural renderings showed the possibilities the 17-member Century 21 Committee is considering.

The committee, which Mayor Greg Nickels appointed last November, has been charged with reviewing and updating the 1990 master plan for the campus, said Jill Crary, acting development director for the Seattle Center.

The goal is to obtain a Master Use Permit for future development on the campus, she said of a process that will include an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). "It will be a while before we get down to the preferred plan."

Make that next spring, when the preferred alternative and proposed phases for paying for the changes will be sent to the Seattle City Council, which is expected to identify a full funding package by the fall of 2008, Crary said.

A survey asking what Seattleites want at the Seattle Center was handed out at the meeting, and one was taken in January, she said. Among the January survey results was a call to market the campus better, to add more green open space and to have more outdoor concerts, Crary said.

Also included in the survey results was the conclusion that the Center House is the center of the Seattle Center and the heart and soul of the campus, she said.

Transportation and access to and from the Seattle Center are vital, and acquiring Memorial Stadium is essential, Crary added. However, the Seattle School District has a long-term lease for the aging stadium as long as it holds athletic events there.

How the Seattle Center would get the stadium wasn't discussed, but Seattle Center director Robert Nellams said the Century 21 committee understands the politics involved.

Dennis Forsyth, an architectural consultant hired for the project, had prepared renderings showing four alternatives for consideration. One of them was a no-action alternative, which is required in the EIS process.

Among the real alternatives, one focused on improvements around the center of the Seattle Center. A goal of that approach is to replace the ceiling and many of walls of the Center House with glass, according to the rendering.

The Center School would stay in the building, Forsyth said, and the proposal calls for a fine-dining restaurant to go with the regularly priced eateries. Also proposed was an undefined "special place" where friends could meet in the Center House, he said of a feature portrayed as a globe in the renderings.

Many people have also called for the elimination of the Fun Forest, and the proposed plan calls for replacing part of it with a large amphitheater, Forsyth said.

As for Memorial Stadium, one idea is to remove the upper stands to open it more to the rest of the campus, and a refinement of that approach is to include parking under the stadium property, he said.

Adding more water features to the campus is also called for in the proposed changes, as is redeveloping KeyArena. One idea is to stage indoor football games there, while another is dividing the Key with a curtain so small concerts could be performed, Forsyth said. Yet another proposal would be to permanently divide the arena and create a supper club that would seat 1,500, he said.

The aging Mercer Street garage might be converted into a multi-use facility as long as parking was set up under the stadium property.

Another idea is to tear down the pavilion to the southeast of the KeyArena and build a new skateboard park there to replace the one lost on Fifth Avenue North. "They have been very clear," Nellams said of the Century 21 group, "this is, in their minds, the best location to put this."

The Seattle City Council isn't so sure, said David Namura, chief of staff for council member David Della, whose parks, education and libraries committee is taking the lead on replacing the lost skateboard park.

"The council asked Nellams and his staff to come to the council with potential locations," said Namura, who added that finding a new site is not necessarily tied to the Century 21 process.

Three locations beside the pavilion site have been identified, he said. One is next to the Center garage on First Avenue North, while the second is north of Mercer Street in what is now a passive park, Namura said of a location Teatro ZinZanni plans to move to.

The third potential location is on the Broad Street Green between the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project, he said. Della's committee hopes to have a recommendation for a new skateboard park site in July, Namura said.

As for the entire Seattle Center plan, Nellams said the Century 21's mandate was to push the boundaries and dream of the possibilities. "At some point ... financing will become a major issue," he conceded. "At some point, you've got to stop dreaming ...," Nellams added.

Crary predicts that at least some of the changes should be in place at the Seattle Center by 2012, the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

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