One curious player in the recent political battle over bringing Sound Transit to the Eastside was a relatively low-profile proposal for a large performing arts center in Bellevue. The proposal says a lot about the emerging Eastside, and whether it will develop into a full-bore city, not just a burgeoning suburban city. So it was not surprising that the Tateuchi Center, as it is called, has served as a focus for Eastside civic aspirations — and political tugs of war.
The Tateuchi Center is named in honor of a $25 million grant from the foundation created by the late Eastside businessman Atsuhiko Tateuchi and his wife Ina Goodwin Tateuchi, who lives in downtown Bellevue. Previously the proposal was called PACE, for Performing Arts Center Eastside. The idea for a 2,000-seat concert and performance facility originally sprang from an idea by Kemper Freeman, the highly influential civic figure and CEO of Bellevue Square. Freeman pledged an $8 million gift of land for the center tucked into the block of the Hyatt Regency Bellevue hotel complex, just northeast of Bellevue Square. (The address is NE 10th and 106th Ave NE.)
The project was originally piloted by Dick Collins, a veteran Seattle consultant in capital campaigns, but fundraising in the early years, beginning 10 years ago, was slow. Five years ago, the effort regrouped, brought in as CEO a highly experienced theater professional, John Haynes, and redesigned the project by adding to the 2,047-seat main auditorium a new 250-seat cabaret-style venue. That 2,000-seat size for the main hall was picked in part not to compete with the larger halls in Seattle such as Benaroya Hall, the Paramount, and McCaw Hall (each around 2,700-3,000 seats), while also being large enough to attract some major stars and shows.
The campaign goal has stayed steady since 2007: $150 million for all costs in building the facility (including three levels of underground parking), plus another $10 million for an endowment. About $63 million has been pledged. Plans to open in 2013 will likely be pushed back to at least 2015. Projects like this also have considerable economic benefit, and not just in construction jobs. A Hebert Research study of the project estimates an economic benefit of $470 million over 10 years.
But will it open at all? Obviously the recession is not a good time to raise this kind of money. Seattle arts groups are split about the wisdom of a competing performance hall in the Eastside. Some, such as the Ballet, the Symphony, and 5th Avenue Theatre, see the Tateuchi Center as a way to serve their Eastside audiences and cultivate Eastside donors — particularly as travel to downtown Seattle gets more difficult and these patrons curtail their cultural pilgrimmages. Others worry about how a larger hall might siphon off groups that want larger fees, or how it would create competing series to Seattle success stories.
Other skeptics wonder if Bellevue and the Eastside are biting off more than they can chew, not just in raising that kind of money but in having audiences and performance groups to fill it. After all, the Eastside is not exactly a dynamo in building arts facilities. The Bellevue Arts Museum had an embarrassing fall from its original ambitions, scaling back from fine arts to more emphasis on decorative arts. The Bellevue Philharmonic, one of the reasons for a new concert hall, has gone out of business. Kirkland Performance Center has been moderately busy since opening in 1998, though lacking resident companies and only 402 seats. The one thriving and highly professional institution is Village Theater in Issaquah, specializing in musicals. Meydenbauer Center, in a conference center, is mostly for meetings and has compromised musical acoustics.
To be sure, the Eastside now has enormous wealth, though it is mostly new wealth that has not found its way into the arts yet, and those donors who have opened their wallets tends to flow to the highly organized Seattle arts groups. Gifts to Tateuchi so far have been on the cautious side: $2 million each from Microsoft and the City of Bellevue; the Gates Foundation has been more generous, with a $6 million pledge. The Tateuchi gift, a key to restarting the capital campaign, comes from a family that is not woven into the social life of other wealthy patrons the way other major benefactors such as Bagley and Virginia Wright, Jon and Mary Shirley, the McCaws, and the Benaroyas are, so it has not, so far, produced a gusher of other large gifts.
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