Pfeiffer Partners Architects
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.
Then there is the question of the hall's design, location, and programming strategy. It has a leading theater architect, Pfeiffer Partners of Los Angeles, who has managed the difficult feat of creating a design that is wedged into the northeast corner of the hotel complex. The space is a little small for a concert hall, acoustically, but it does have lots of underground parking, a superb central location in downtown Bellevue, and the advantage for parties and conferences of all those hotel facilities accessed by an adjoining atrium.
Tateuchi also has the benefit of a leading acoustical firm, Jaffe Holden, the Connecticut-based firm in charge of McCaw Hall's makeover. The hall will have a great variety of performing arts productions — orchestra, chamber music, chorus, opera, dance, touring Broadway shows, popular entertainers, folk, jazz, and lectures — each with its own acoustical needs from "dry" as in speech to reverberant as for orchestras. Most halls split this difference, satisfying neither extreme. Tateuchi will use "digital architecture," deploying hundreds of speakers throughout the hall to artificially increase the reverberation time to as much as 2.2 seconds.
Whether this electronic enhancing (now getting far more sophisticated) will drive off purists is one more question. But Tateuchi will be the most technologically advanced hall in the region, and highly flexible. It will even be wired to allow patrons to deploy their Facebook and Twitter accounts during the performance, drawing younger audiences and spreading the word, real time.
As for the programming strategy, which is key to long-range viability, Haynes says one given is the ability to import Broadway shows, even though they will probably lose money and the supply of such shows (especially given two venues in Seattle, the Paramount and the 5th Ave) is unreliable. The Pacific Northwest Ballet, already with a ballet school on the Eastside, looks most eager of the Seattle groups to have a second home. The changing of the guard at Seattle Symphony has eased the tepid support of previous maestro Gerard Schwarz, so the SSO may also bring a dozen or so programs each year, adapted to Eastside audiences. The Opera, which is shifting its Young Artist performances from Meydenbauer to Meany Hall at the UW, seems much less likely to venture across the lake. That may leave mostly popular programming, meetings, graduations, and celebrity lectures, though Haynes insists "this is a performing ARTS facility."
What may wear down the resistance from Seattle groups is the steady erosion of their Eastside patrons, often amounting to half the Seattle institutions' audiences. Haynes says some studies by Hebert Research a few years ago pointed to a decline in Eastside audiences for major Seattle arts institutions of 9 percent per year. The new tolls on 520, along with increased congestion and parking costs in downtown Seattle, may also move Seattle groups to protect their market share by having significant Eastside programming. Some Seattle groups are already busy creating Eastside programs, hoping to fend off Eastside startups.
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