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LEFT OF CENTER DEPT.
April 25th, 2006 by Clark Humphrey

Every few years or so, somebody comes up with a huge master plan for Seattle Center. The latest of these somebodies is a Mayor Nickels-appointed task force. They’d like to modernize Center House and the Fun Forest, and demolish the awkward, rickety High School Memorial Stadium.

Meanwhile, ex-Seattle Weekly mogul David Brewster has submitted a more extreme plan. In keeping with his lifelong ideology of baby-boomer bias, Brewster’s plan would eradicate all Center facilities that serve clienteles significantly younger or less affluent than himself.

Brewster would raze Memorial Stadium, Mercer Arena (formerly the Arena, formerly the Ice Arena), the Fun Forest, Center House (formerly the Food Circus, formerly a National Guard armory), the North Court meeting rooms (including the Snoqualmie Room, where the Vera Project’s all-ages rock shows will move later this year), and maybe even the new and popular Fisher Pavilion. And he apparently wouldn’t mind seeing the Sonics leave town so he could erase KeyArena (formerly the Coliseum) as well.

In the place of all these funky, un-slicked-up, well-used facilities, Brewster would like to see—nothing.

Albeit, it would be a lushly landscaped nothing, with lotsa grass and trees. Maybe there’d be some gourmet sidewalk cafes and used-book pushcarts. Maybe there’d be some outdoor ampitheater spaces, which would replace a few of the many indoor performance venues Bumbershoot and Folklife would lose.

Brewster’s Seattle Times essay notes that when Seattle Center was originally being planned to take over the 1962 World’s Fair grounds, it was made to accommodate many interest groups and population segments. He’d now like to replace that “cacophany” with a unified vision of a “glorious urban park.”

I happen to love the cacophany. And I want to keep it.

Too much of Seattle (hell, too much of America) has already been subsumed by the ultra-bland upscale monoculture. Publicly-owned treasures such as Seattle Center should resist this trend. They should always belong to everyone. They should always have a place for senior square-dancers, for working families, for teens, for minorities, for fast-food eaters, and for us Century 21 nostalgists who still want to believe in a festive future.

We can have contemplative green spaces, too. And we can have upscale dineries and theatrical venues. Just not only those.

So, I propose: Anything cut out from today’s Center gets put back into tomorrow’s Center. The only exception would be the high-school football games. They can move to some current school-district-owned property (such as one of those grade schools threatened with closure), or even to Husky Stadium or Qwest Field. Down in the Beaver State, Corvallis High has long played its football games at Oregon State’s stadium (and often had better winning records than OSU). The fact that neither Brewster nor the Nickels task force bothers to talk about where the high-school games would go just shows how ivory-tower (or condo-tower) their POVs are.

As for the rest: The Sonics, in their plea for another taxpayer-subsidized arena remodel, say they want a food court and an amusement arcade. Fine. Let ’em buy out the Fun Forest operators. An altered arena complex could incorporate replacements for the Fun Forest and the Center House food court. (These restaurants and arcades should be open to the general public, not only to arena event-goers.)

The arena should also be refitted to be more favorable to hockey. The NHL is dying in Sunbelt cities where it doesn’t belong; I’m convinced one of those southern-tier teams would fare far better in a northern town with major Canadian connections.

I’d keep Fisher Pavilion and its popular rooftop deck.

The empty lawn surrounding KCTS east of Mercer Arena could become a landscaped play area, replacing the wading pool north of KeyArena (and relocating the “atomic” neon lights from there).

The other Center House and Northwest Court functions (Vera, the Center School, the Seattle Children’s Museum, the square dances, the conferences, Bumbershoot’s visual arts) could go into new structures on the Center’s periphery, perhaps at the Mercer Arena site and retaining its facade. These new buildings could be included in the same funding package and construction schedule as the arena redo.

That would leave Center House available for implosion. In its hole might go some of the green spaces and outdoor amenities Brewster wants.

But, in my heart-O-hearts, I like Center House. I like the swords-into-plowshares idea of a bulky military warehouse now devoted to fun and games. It’s a grand old building, with a lot of life left in it. And besides, I like the Mongolian BBQ and the Pizza Haven.

Maybe Brewster would slag folk like me for not possessing a will to civic greatness. Too bad.

I don’t want a civic center with good taste. I want a civic center that tastes good.


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