Seattle Center: The playground in the City
Just north the of hustle and bustle of downtown Seattle, Seattle Center sprawls across 74 acres giving Seattleites and tourists a spacious park setting in the heart of the city.
Originally built in 1962 for Seattle World's Fair, the theme "Century 21" was chosen to give Americans an idea of what the future holds for them. Thirty-five nations participated in the fair and American companies such as Ford Motor Co. and Boeing signed on to create exhibits of the future. Two of the fair's more notable futuristic attractions still remain vibrant in Seattle: the Monorail and the Space Needle. The Monorail was designed to transport visitors from downtown out to the fairgrounds while the Space Needle took visitors closer to the stars. While ordinary American families traveled to the Pacific Northwest for the event, the fair saw its share of Hollywood and international guests as well. Prince Phillip of England paid a visit, as well as Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, John Wayne, and Lt. Col. John Glenn. For more information about the Seattle Center visit HistoryLink.
Nowadays Seattle Center is a regular host for concerts, festivals, sports events and family fun. Organizations such as The Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Children's Theatre and Experience Music Project, plus venues such as KeyArena and Fisher Pavilion keep culture continuously flowing at the Center.
However during the past few years, Seattle Center has experienced a decline in revenue and visitors. One reason the Center has been operating in the red is due to the loss of KeyArena's major tenant, the Seattle Sonics. In 2008, the NBA basketball team was relocated to Oklahoma City and renamed the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In 2006, Former Mayor Greg Nickels appointed the Century 21 Commission and charged them with developing a new vision for Seattle Center. In August 2008, using the Commission's recommendations, the Seattle City Council passed Resolution 31071, a new master plan for Seattle Center.
The new master plan calls for a public/private partnership of $674 million investment in the Center over the next 20 years. Highlights of the plan include a major renovation of the Center House, tearing down Mercer Garage, and adding ten more acres of open space-including replacing the Fun Forest and Memorial Stadium. No specific funding plan for realizing this new vision has yet been put forward.
The Latest News:
KeyArena upgrade bill dies in Olympia
In April 2009, at the end of its regular session, the Washington State Legislature did not act on a bill that would provide money for upgrading Seattle Center's KeyArena. This, in turn, means that the City of Seattle may not be able to collect $30 million from Sonics/Thunder owner Clay Bennett.
Senate Bill 6116, sponsored by Seattle Democratic Senators Jeannie Kohl-Welles and Ed Murray, would direct some of the hotel-motel taxes collected by King County to renovating KeyArena.
The Seattle Times reported that when Bennett broke his lease agreement at KeyArena in order to move the Sonics/Thunder to Oklahoma City, he agreed to pay the City of Seattle an additional $30 million contingent on two things happening: 1) the Legislature authorizing money for an arena upgrade by the end of 2009's legislative session and 2) Seattle's failure to land a new NBA team in the next five years.
City officials still hope to revive the bill if the legislature meets in a special session later in 2009.
New Seattle Center Director to take oath of office
On January 22, Robert Nellams was sworn in as the new Seattle Center Director by the Seattle City Council. Nellams was acting Director since Virginia Anderson retired early last year after 18 years as Center Director. Former Mayor Nickels made his announcement appointing Nellams in November. Nellams is a 25-year City employee who's been with the Seattle Center since 1996.
Nellams faces several on-going challenges as he takes the helm. Notable are the fate of the Supersonics and Storm, Key Arena tenants whose lease expires in 2010 and the needed improvements to the Seattle Monorail. Nellams will also consider recommendations made by the 2005 Mayor's task force on sustainability for the Center and also from the recently formed Century 21 Committee.
The Mayor's task force recommended restoring the budget for Center which includes hiring more staff. It also recommended dealing with aging structures at the Center including the Center House and Fun Forest. The Century 21 Committee is charged with building on the task force's recommendations in constructing a 20-year plan for the campus.
Still an Economic Fixture
Despite the losses over the past few years, the Seattle Center has become an economic fixture in the city's tourism industry.
Mayor names new Seattle Center Director
- In 2005, Seattle Center visitors and businesses created $1.15 billion in business activity, 15,534 jobs and more than $41 million in tax revenue.
- Seattle Center visitors spent $396 million in relation to their visits to the Center.
- 6,489 people are directly employed by businesses at Seattle Center, 32% have full-time employment.
- For more information view the Seattle Center Economic Impact Assessment
Former Mayor Greg Nickels has tapped Robert Nellams to be Seattle Center's next director.
Nellams has been serving as the Center's acting director since Virginia Anderson retired earlier this year. The Mayor made his announcement during a November 22 press conference.
Nellams has worked at the Center since 1996 when was named director of patron services. He was promoted to deputy director in 1998 and remained there until he was named acting director in May. His appointment is subject to confirmation by the City Council.
The Seattle Center faces many challenges in the next few years. The recent sale of the Seattle Sonics and Storm may have the basketball teams looking for a new home court after their contract with Key Arena expires in 2010. The monorail is in need of a multi-million dollar makeover, as is the Fun Forest and the Center House.
If approved by the Council, Nellams will work with the Mayor's Century 21 Committee - a citizens group working on defining how the Center will evolve over the next two decades.
Missed shot for Sonics and Storm
Seattle voters cast their ballot November 7 and now the Sonics and Storm may be looking for another home court.
With nearly 74 percent of the vote, Seattle residents said they didn't want public funds paying for anymore sports facilities. Initiative 91 calls for the city to receive a far market value for any investments they make for a pro-sports team
The Oklahoma-based ownership group of the Seattle Supersonics says the passage of the initiative has effectively eliminated the consideration of Seattle as the primary site for the team's home after their Key Arena lease expires in 2010. However, they have also discussed extending existing city taxes on hotels, businesses and rental cars to pay for a new arena in Seattle. The ownership group continues to look at possible arena sites in Renton and Bellevue.
The teams were sold to the Oklahoma-based group after the former local owners said they were losing money on the teams and blamed the small, outdated Key Arena as a financial drain.
Sonics and Storm sold to out-of-state group
Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said he was disappointed the Seattle Sonics and Storm basketball teams were sold on July 18 to an out-of-state organization. Oklahoma based group, Professional Basketball Club LLC led by Clay Bennett, paid $350 million for the two teams.
Bennett stated they are committed to keep the Sonics in Seattle for 12 months and longer - if a lease agreement can be reached over the Key Arena facility.
The sale comes as Sonics leaders try to negotiate a new lease agreement with city and state officials. Sonics owners, led by Howard Schultz, claimed they lose money with the current lease at the Key Arena and that the facility isn't up to NBA standards.
Nickels said several options were on the table with the former owners and will remain on the table for Bennett and his organization.
"We think they are a good starting point," Nickels said of the City's current options. "We're disappointed that rather then follow through with the offers that they sold the team to an outside group."
They are looking forward to beginning negotiations with Bennett and his organization, Nickels added.
Bennett, in a letter sent Tuesday, July 18 to Schultz, stated he didn't believe the Key Arena is designed to support the NBA franchise. He also stated the future success of the team is critical to attaining a modern facility.
The sale will be official by October.
Currently, the New Orleans Hornets have been playing basketball in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their facility last year. The Hornets have an agreement to play the upcoming season in Oklahoma City.
City lays guidelines down for Key Arena negotiations
Seattle Sonics and Storm fans may have the opportunity to keep their home teams at home. But it could come at a high ticket price: $220 million. That's how much basketball officials say it'll take to get the Key Arena up to the standards they need to compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA). City leaders are hesitant to commit that much money to the Key Arena when the rest of the Seattle Center is also in need of a make-over. City Council members voted May 1 to set parameters for lease negotiations with the Sonics leaders. In the resolution, they set several key elements needed for the negotiations including:
Financing for the estimated $220 million renovation would come from visitor taxes throughout King County. The Basketball Club of Seattle, LLC (owner of the Sonics and Storm) have stated they'll go elsewhere if they don't agree with a new lease when theirs expires in 2010.
- Any proposal for public funding of a Key Arena renovation must be submitted to the voters of King County for their approval;
- No use of any of the city's general fund money will pay for a Key Arena renovation;
- The Sonics must contribute a significant amount toward a Key Arena renovation.
Former Mayor Greg Nickels has appointed a task force charged with examining the mission statement of the Center and studying the feasibility of the older buildings to see if there is a better use for them or their space. Early recommendations from the nine member committee include more public funding, relieve the center of past debts and tear down outdated buildings such as Memorial Stadium and breathe new life in to the Fun Forest. The Mayor's Task Force on Seattle Center Sustainability released their formal report in mid-May.
City Council President Nick Licata also threw a game plan into the mix. He introduced his resolution to provide revenue for the Seattle Center at May Parks, Education, Libraries and Labor Committee meeting chaired by fellow Councilman David Della. Licata's proposal stated ways to eliminate existing debt, fund capital improvements and operations, promote tourism in Seattle and King County and provide millions of dollars in funding to arts and educational programs. Della said Licata's proposal was not going to be voted on, but rather used as a discussion point while the committee tackles the topic throughout the summer. Della has also expressed concerns that any new debt incurred from future remodels must be paid off before the Sonics' next lease is set to expire, if the team agrees to renew their lease and the remodel conditions.
Seattle Center releases economic study
In February 2006, Seattle Center released an economic study to demonstrate its importance to the local economy. The study's findings included the following: In 2005, Seattle Center visitors and businesses created $1.15 billion in business activity, 15,534 jobs and more than $41 million in tax revenue.
" Seattle Center visitors spent $396 million in relation to their visits to the Center.
" 6,489 people are directly employed by businesses at Seattle Center, 32% have full-time employment.
" For more information view the Seattle Center Economic Impact Assessment