In a joint news conference today, Gov. Christine Gregoire and Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith announced Microsoft’s contribution of $500 million to rebuild the 520 floating bridge and $250 million to renovate Seattle Center. Under the agreement, replacement bridge construction will begin immediately using plans developed privately by architects hired by Microsoft.
The deal settles an ongoing tax dispute between Microsoft and the state regarding its 13-year Nevada royalty tax arrangement. Microsoft’s alleged tax debt will be forgiven and no interest or penalties will be assessed. “This deal allows the state to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation which serves no one,” said Gregoire. “Microsoft has long been an advocate for the timely replacement and expansion of the 520 bridge, “ added Smith. “This agreement will allow us to move the region forward now.”
Transit advocate Ben Schiendelman criticized the plan’s lack of HOV lanes and light rail: “Incredibly, this plan provides only VIP lanes for Microsoft employees and executives.” In a related move, Microsoft’s Connector buses will be retired and sent to earthquake-ravaged Haiti to provide needed shelter and Wi-Fi communication links.
Instead of new exits for the Montlake side of the bridge, long a disputed subject, the new design features a two-lane tunnel that will extend from west edge of 520 to the base of the Space Needle, which will now house Microsoft’s executive offices.
The conference was held at the new Rediscover Seattle Center Showroom, where reporters were allowed to view architectural renderings of Microsoft’s proposed new corporate campus.
Seattle Center will be transformed. The Experience Music Project will be razed to make room for a new retail store, the Experience Microsoft Project, designed jointly by local glass artist Dale Chihuly and architect of the popular Seattle Public Library, Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas’ design also calls for a glass helipad atop the Needle and a zip line down to a new private airstrip, for which a portion of Memorial Stadium and McCaw Hall will be relocated.
The Center’s International Fountain will also be renovated. It will feature drowning effigies of Microsoft’s enemies including Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison, open source innovator Linus Torvalds, former Borland software CEO Phillippe Kahn, President of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy, Professor Lawrence Lessig, and former U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.
The Pacific Science Center will become a private subsidiary of former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold, founder of Intellectual Ventures, which is expected to relocate, expanding research and development jobs in the city. KeyArena will be sold for $1 to a group of Microsoft investors led by CEO Steve Ballmer, who hope to bring NBA basketball back to Seattle.
Finally, as an efficiency measure and signaling the new detente, legislative hotlines will be installed between Microsoft’s headquarters and key legislative offices in Olympia. The governor will be provided a complimentary suite of offices in the renamed Microsoft Needle.
The governor was effusive in her gratitude, saying: “This deal is a testament to how effective government can be when we stop trying to include everyone in the process and listen more closely to the fast-moving private sector.” Mayor Mike McGinn had been expected to attend but was delayed by a flat tire on his bike. His office released a statement saying the mayor was "strongly supportive, though neutral," on the Seattle Center plans. The mayor also commended the 520 plan for its sharp reduction of automobile access.
The press conference allowed only 45 seconds for questions so some details of the plan remain unclear, though they will soon be worked out behind closed doors. Officials refused to comment on rumors that Microsoft contractors and non-employees would be banned from the new 520 bridge during rush hour. Nor was it clear whether any portion of Seattle Center would remain accessible to the public. The company did agree that scuba diving will be allowed in the new Effigies Fountain on Sundays from 7 am to 9 am.
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