Raise the curtain on Eastside cultural center
by Jane Hague and Peter Horvitz, Guest Columnists
The tremendous energies swirling around Chris Hansen’s arena proposal have excited intense reactions, both pro and con. A small army, clad in green and gold, has successfully urged King County and Seattle lawmakers to overlook their qualms and approve the deal.
Seattle may get another arena. In the meantime, the voice of regional equity should not be lost in all the excitement.
King County’s center of gravity is in the midst of a slow, historic shift eastward. The communities on the sunrise side of the lake are poised to become a “Twin City” to Seattle, offering a powerful combination of natural beauty, abundant space for future development, global industries spawning new enterprises, superb public education, and culturally diverse, well-educated residents. As a single city it would be the 32nd largest in America, equal in size to Omaha, Neb., Tucson, Ariz., or Sacramento, Calif. But something is missing!
Two decades ago, a group of business and community leaders came together to give the Eastside what it was missing: convenient access to great performing artists and entertainers. The goal of Performing Arts Center Eastside (PACE) was to serve the expanding Eastside population. Over time, the mission grew to include not just Eastside residents, but also the Seattle arts organizations that need to reach them.
In 2010, a $25 million grant from the Tateuchi Foundation gave PACE a huge boost and a new name. Now the region has a cultural jewel within its reach: Tateuchi Center, a stunning, 2,000-seat performing arts center planned for downtown Bellevue. World-class employers, great shopping and terrific schools are all wonderful, but they don’t go quite far enough.
The irony is that the bigger and more sophisticated the Eastside gets, the less access its people have to the very things that make a city great. It’s time to fix that. And it’s past time to establish an Eastside beachhead for Seattle’s treasured performing arts groups who, to a large extent, have been nurtured for decades by Eastside patrons and donors — ardent supporters who now find themselves increasingly reluctant to cross bridges and fight traffic for a 7:30 p.m. curtain.
Eastside residents attend performing arts events at half the annual rate of Seattle residents, and the Eastside audience for Seattle performances is eroding at the rate of almost 10 percent a year. The reasons given are uniform: traffic, parking and tolls. The leaders of Seattle’s performing arts organizations — especially Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Symphony — understand this, and they’re enthusiastic about the prospect of performing parts of their seasons at Tateuchi Center.
Architectural design work for Tateuchi Center is complete and permits will be issued soon. The site has been secured and is perfectly located between the major east/west and north/south freeways, two blocks from the nexus of Eastside mass transit, and sitting atop 3,500 free parking spaces. An independent study projects a 10-year economic impact of $470 million and hundreds of new jobs.
Tateuchi Center isn’t merely feasible; it’s necessary in the broadest sense. It has been carefully designed to fulfill urgent cultural, social and educational needs, to be financially sound, and to extend the reach of existing performing arts organizations. Everyone stands to gain. The King County Council recently approved an ordinance modeled on the Sodo arena deal whereby county bonds can be used for a regional public facility if a city in King County has a shovel-ready proposal and a guaranteed revenue stream to cover the bond debt. With this bonding tool available, Bellevue and King County can and should “raise the curtain” now on this world-class facility that merges performing arts and major economic opportunities.
This should be a slam-dunk. Surely a region that can support a fourth arena for sporting events can support one game-changing cultural center.
JANE HAGUE is a member of the Metropolitan King County Council. PETER HORVITZ is chair of the board of directors of the Tateuchi Center.
This article was published in the Puget Sound Business Journal