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Remembering Paul Schell

He was “an artist of the public sphere” who inspired a generation of lively friends.
Paul Schell, as mayor in 1999

Paul Schell, as mayor in 1999 Seattle Municipal Archives/Wikipedia

Former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, who died Sunday morning at the age of 76, was one of the rare defining figures of our political history. He played an inspiring role, releasing the city’s creative juices from the 1970s onward. He and Pam, his inseparable partner, were good friends to me and to hundreds of others. It’s hard to imagine our region without him and his spirit.

Schell suffered the ignominy of losing his re-election race in 2001, and he took that loss very hard during his years in semi-exile on Whidbey Island. But any appraisal of his accomplishments must take the long view, for this remarkable man compiled a long list of civic achievements.

Redeveloping parts of Seattle’s downtown while heading Cornerstone Development, a Weyerhaeuser affiliate, as well as admired projects in Tacoma and Portland, pioneering mixed-use urban projects in all three cities. The same for the Seattle central waterfront while a Port Commissioner. Guiding the renovation of the Pike Place Market as part of then-Mayor Wes Uhlman’s impressive team.  Steering legislation to help the arts while president of Allied Arts. Helping Langley to develop a rich community life, and building elegant small hotels there and elsewhere. And then, as mayor during the boom times of the late 1990s, building new libraries, community centers and parks, all over town; stirring neighborhoods into better urban planning and community-directed projects; doubling the funding for the homeless 

He loved the city for its confidence, pluck and creativity. And no mayor or political leader of our times better exemplified these qualities. I suspect we’ll see this more clearly now that Paul has passed, finally paying him his proper due. He was more loved than he knew, or than we knew.

One reason for so many accomplishments, particularly regarding Seattle’s physical environment, is that Schell and his wife Pam were very good and steady friends to a long list of talented civic activators. He was always spotting talent and placing it well. He was unstoppable: taking friends like Tom Alberg out of his law office for a lunchtime walk to see possibilities for better urban design in downtown, or driving former City Councilmember Bruce Chapman to neighborhoods that he appreciated when Chapman would drop by the Schell home after church on Sundays. “Hey, can I try an idea on you?” he would say to us, over and over, as our eyebrows rose.

“Paul was restless and infectious,” says his good friend Eileen Quigley, who helped with his mayoral transition. “A deeply civic-minded visionary with one idea after another. Working with him was both inspiring and challenging, but being his friend was a true delight. He was incredibly generous and compassionate toward me.”

Schell never lacked for ideas, some of them ahead of their time or too disruptive of the complacent status quo. Sell Key Tower (that got the city council in opposition early in his mayoral term); illuminate bridges as Paris does; route Sound Transit directly south from downtown rather than the long detour of Rainier Valley; bid for the 2012 Olympics; high-speed rail to Portland to obviate the need for the third runway at Sea-Tac; turn Memorial Stadium into a kind of Butchart Gardens; put a park atop the Viaduct; bike-taxis.

But he also applauded ideas from his wide circle of creative people, suggesting ways to implement them and urging them to others. The result was a vast network of smart, motivated, idealistic, grateful civic actors. This was the secret of Schell’s effectiveness and why his impact rippled outward. Paul helped me on three of my brainstorms: the Mark Tobey Pub, the quarterly “The New Pacific,” and the launching of Crosscut.com. He liked doing tough and high-minded things, and served as a kind of inspiring John F. Kennedy to his generation locally. His new friend in Langley, the leading American editor and historian Bob Merry, praises Schell’s “indomitable spirit and lovely disposition.”


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for this, David. Paul Schell was, as you say, done in by
the WTO and Mardi Gras violence. He was too trusting and high minded on basic issues such as public safety. Voters, by contrast,
place it first on their agenda.

I was surprised by the degree to which Paul was hurt by his electoral defeat---which comes, in time, to all incumbents in an executive position. He should not have been. It comes with the territory. He gave the city many years of creative and energetic service, in and out of elective office. Paul Schell, above all, was a good man.

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

I first experienced Paul's dynamic leadership and indefatigable energy when I became the first Manager of the Pioneer Square Historic District in 1971 while Paul was the President of Allied Arts. He quickly became my mentor and friend as we fought for the protection and redevelopment of the District. Later I was drafted by him to C0-Chair the Historic Preservation Committee of Allied Arts with another outrageous character/advocate, Betty Bowen.
Those were the days!
Paul championed the creation of the Seattle Arts Commission, the Seattle Landmarks Board and of course, worked with Victor Steinbrueck and others in the fight to save the Pike Place Market Historic District, from Urban Renewal. There was no project he wouldn't play an advocacy role in.
Paul was my brief Boss in 1977 as Director of DCD when he helped push through the creation of the Office of Urban Conservation which I headed as Seattle first City Conservator. What a team we were.
However,Not everything was rosy.
Paul and I had a few difficult years due to my wishing he had not filed for his first Mayor's race against Bob Royer. I wanted him to continue to be the outstanding advocate outside of government, which he excelled at. His advocacy kept an eternal eye on our politicians and kept the business of government out in the open and before the general public.
Of course, Paul's career showed us all that he could do his good works both in and outside of government.

To me, that is Paul's legacy. He personified the advocate in everything he did. It became his banner throughout his varied and successful career. Combined with his intellect and his problem-solving/ever-present creativity, Paul was the most effective person in the modern History of Seattle.

To say he will be missed is an understatement. A major light has gone out and his loss will be mourned into the future. I am so sad for Pam and Jamie that they will no longer have his daily presence, his sense of humor, his loving heart and true companionship. But, they are strong, they had to be when living with Paul,and that strength will carry them through this sad time.

If I could say that I loved someone who added so much to my career, it would be, hands down, Paul.

Paul, I'm counting on you to keep an eye on all of us, to make sure we live up to your standards as we venture forward as Seattle faces new and challenging issues.
Give us a sign, if you can, and let us know how we are doing.

Lovingly,

Art Skolnik

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

I did not know Paul Schell, and he certainly may well have been a good man. But there is a sentiment in this piece that I find troubling, especially given Mr. Brewster's own history as a participant in the change that has happened to Seattle. He writes, "The irony is that Seattle turned out to be pretty much the kind of gentrified, globalized, expensive, progressive, churning kind of city that the Microsoft/Amazon economy was bound to produce and which Mayor Schell anticipated".

Paul Schell was not just a businessman, he was at base a developer, and indeed he was ahead of his time, turning 1st Avenue away from Seattle's frumpy seedy funky past to new condos. He was so far ahead of his time in fact that those buildings sat virtually empty for years. And in fact that first big Seattle development had with it all the problems that we are plagued with now. Instead of finding a truly creative way of blending old and new, he produced a varnished version of an idealized city, one that had no place for its historic functions (true he was careful to 'save' plenty of the old buildings, but the new rents were so high that none of the previous tenants could return). That development didn't succeed then (and put him out of the development business) because people then were not ready to jump in and live in an ersatz version of their city.

That people are now ready for that is not I believe as Brewster writes- it was not 'bound' to happen. The powers that were- Schell, Brewster, Paul Allen and several mayors and power brokers that have followed, offered no other viable direction. The city did not have to become overly expensive and gentrified, it became such because that has been the most profitable way for developers and their enablers to go. Schell was indeed unique in that he combined both developer and mayor in one person. Nowadays the mayors have to go out and find the developers to remake the place in their image. True creativity in cities is not skin deep- putting up spanking clean overly expensive buildings, lighting bridges- it requires doing the hard work of finding ways to take the entire city forward into the future.

I am very sorry to read that Mr. Schell was personally hurt by his mayoral defeat. But perhaps Mr. Brewster would better serve his readers, and his city, even the memory of Paul Schell, to think about what that defeat meant. People then did not want to see their city turned into a pretend version of itself. It is not inevitable that they want that now.

thoughts

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 11:02 a.m. Inappropriate

My mistake. I meant
Charles Royer rather than Bob Royer.

Art Skolnik

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for this knowing tribute.
There are three jobs as mayor, to address problems, to seize opportunities and to run the beast, the bureaucracy. Paul obviously excelled at seeking opportunities. Which is not to say he was an opportunist.
Running the beast and giving deference to the council was not his primary interest. He wanted to show off the city to the world, hence the play for the Olympics and, unfortunately the WTO. "Look, world, he seemed to say, here is a once prosaic city that is now full of opportunity! Come join us as we join the league of world class cities."

As you say, he was an idealist who only wanted to see Seattle be as great as it could be. He may have been naive about some things, but he only wanted us to be our best. He did not deserve the black eye from Mardi Gras nor the real one when he was bludgeoned by the baffoon.

Even though he was a developer, he wanted us to grow gracefully., I'm not sure that he would be pleased the free for all we now have.

neonative

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

I know Paul shall not as a politician or a civic developer but simply as a personal friend; I loved his wisdom, his small sense of humor, his insight into politics, his deep faith twinged with the cynicism about religion.

As I read the true and complimentary things people say about him and his contributions both to Seattle and to Langley I am more stressed at the falsity of one of the frequent criticisms...his handling of the events around the WTO " riots".
I was working downtown at the time, witnessed all the excitement up close and personal.

For the last 12 years, I have been amazed that no one has pointed out that the WTO riots in every place they were held since then have been far more violent, much worse, more threatening to life and limb, more costly to the cities and the people involved. Certainly, in hindsight, Paul Schell handled the WTO reality far better than any other mayor in the world.

The Seattle Times coverage of his servant leadership was so terribly biased that our city was deprived of his great service for four more years;that civic short sightedness in Seattle led to enormous benefits to Langley and Paul's beloved South Whidbey.

lpatrick

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 4:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Paul Schell's handling of the WTO was the accident waiting-to-happen that we hoped to avoid as far back as 1973. I'll explain.

When the KINGDOME was in planning stages, as District Manager, I represented the Pioneer Square Community's concerns for the impacts on the District. Our position was that the KINGDOME would be a detriment to the District due to the fact that crowds would come and go without lingering in the District supporting our struggling businesses. And traffic and parking issues would strangle the District.

However, County Executive John Spellman brilliantly proposed that a King County Convention Center be constructed adjacent to the DOME on the North Parking Lot. There were many advantages: Combined with the Dome, the total Sq Ft of the two structures would create an unprecedented amount of space, and make it possible to host a National Political Convention which back then was the cherry hosting for all cities.
Also, the Convention Center was proposed to be build for $20 million, and be constructed in a very short timeframe. A big Box!
Pioneer Square supported the DOME/Convention Center Complex because the Convention traffic was seen as beneficial to the District.

Finally, and most important for this discussion, as experienced in the 1968 Chicago riots during the National Democratic Convention, it was sound planning to locate the Convention facility outside of the downtown Core to avoid the complexities of keeping rioters separate from disrupting downtown businesses, etc. Chicago later build the McCormick Place Convention Center outside of Downtown, learning from it's mistakes.

The County applied for an Economic Development Administration grant from the Feds. It didn't happen! And by that time the Downtown Business Interest began a campaign to get the proposed Convention Center located closer to the then current hotels. John Spellman was encouraged to NOT reapply for the EDA grant, which was what happened. The Downtown interests feared that if the Center were to be built south of Downtown, that newer hotels would be built at that location, putting the current hotels at a disadvantage.
I won't bother with the following phases of the Downtown interests finally getting the State to develop the most expensive Regional scale Convention Center in the Nation built over the Freeway and never being able to attract the National scale events that still have the greatest economic impact a city could experience.

So, as it turned out the WTO conference brought with it the dreaded rioters and turning them loose in the Core of Downtown.
It was the accident-waiting-to-happen. And any Mayor at that time would have had the same problems due to this myopic thinking and planning.

Paul Schell did the best any Mayor could have done given this bad logistical situation. And for that, I commended him for minimizing the impacts that otherwise could have been many times more damaging and even fatal.
We all need to stop this obsession with blaming-the-victim. Rather we need to focus on decisions that really benefit the whole City, rather than only the few.

This story of siting the Convention Center was a product of selfish big influence peddling, bad planning,unethical political maneuvering and half-truths along with some smoke and mirrors, to give us what we now have. Now we are making the best of it and at many times the expense than the $20 million originally planned in 1973. Unfortunately, we never seem to learn this lesson.

I am saddened that Paul will forever be saddled with the predictable results of the WTO event. And where was Governor Locke's assistance with the National Guard?
Paul was just in the wrong place and wrong time on this. Should he have not vigorously campaigned to have the WTO Convention in Seattle? This will be argued into the future. He felt it would benefit the City on the World stage. We shouldn't blame him for promoting our great city. It was his job! And I think he did a damn good job of it.

Art Skolnik

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 7:14 a.m. Inappropriate

A note on your monologue, Art: Spellman's plan for a county convention center south of Pioneer Square was a non-starter, but that wasn't because downtown hotel owners opposed it. The WSTCC is where it is because Gerry Johnson and his partners wanted cuts off the top of some new muni bond sales, and they got their friends in Olympia to enact the enabling legislation.

That's how ALL the muni-bond financing silos around here were created -- the ones for the Pike Place Market authority, old-Metro, WSTCC, Pike Place Garage, the sports stadiums, the Pac-Med building, Sound Transit, Seattle Popular Monorail authority, SAM, the tunnel along SR-99 financed in part by toll revenue bonds, etc. It's not hotel owners, Art it is the financiers who drive these things.

crossrip

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 3:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Dear crossrip,
I was not aware of what Jerry Johnson was up to or intended. I did witness the site selection process by the WTCC Committee, which was headed up by Jim Ellis (who in any way possible)wanted to cover the Freeway since it was built in 1962. I worked closely with Jim as project manager of the Freeway Garage project which eventually was designed to hold up the Freeway Park.
The downtown hotel interests presented a study that they had commissioned which surveyed other city convention interests and arrived at the conclusion that any Convention Center in Seattle would have to be within two blocks of the major hotels since most respondance would not want to walk more that that distance in the Seattle rain.
That eventually knocked out all other site contenders such as the Kingdome and Seattle Center.
How bogus is that?
And so it went. I was there.

Art Skolnik

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Many years ago Schell took the time to talk at length with me about development downtown. I was new in town, a freelance journalist at the time--not someone with clout he needed to court in order to get favorable press, in other words. I had occasion to talk with him, and with Pam Schell, a few times over the years. Each time I was struck by their kindness and willingness to discuss ideas about the future of Seattle (in both development and in the arts) in such an inclusive, enthusiastic way. He will be greatly missed.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 3:19 p.m. Inappropriate

It was a shock to learn of Paul's death on Sunday, and a great loss. On the other hand, I spent most of the rest of the day wallowing in memories of the times our paths had run together. I think he was a great man and I wish I had had the chance to spend far more time with him.

http://www.ifiwereking.net/2014/07/my-friend-paul-schell/

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

This is such a lovely and spot on tribute to Paul. How I wish it had been a part of his living and not his passing, but that's the unfortunate thing about life I guess. Though Paul Schell was challenged greatly in his ability to be the political leader Seattle had become accustomed to, there was NEVER any doubt in my mind that Paul Schell had the most passion and dedication among many of his predecessors to doing whatever he could to make his city better for everyone. He succeeded in so many ways, as it is documented here, yet there were so many other ways in which he left an indelible mark on Seattle. For someone who spent most of his short 4 years embattled by one thing or another, the City reflects his love all over. Once there is a plan to actually develop the old Public Safety Building, I hope it bears his name and that the waters that flow from SPD Headquarters, through City Hall, connect there as Paul envisioned - a flowing connection with citizen services. I'm grateful to live where Paul Schell worked!

VivPhil

Posted Thu, Jul 31, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I remember Mayor Schell from the late '80's in his former role with Cornerstone Development, where he helped shepherd a vibrant mixed use project out of the empty hulk of the old Oceanic Building (now Harbor Steps). In time, a wonderful and eclectic mix of artists, aspiring professionals and residents intermingled in that space, an area that had been long-abandoned, streets lined with broken bottles, vermin and graffiti. He saw hope and possibility for positive change there, and wherever he went.
I attended a luncheon with him and a handful of others shortly after WTO. The experience had weighed heavily on him, and he seemed blindsided by the level of violence, contempt for authority and threat posed by the anarchist contingent that became such a dominant element during that event. It was an unfortunate chapter in Seattle's history in many ways, and has left lingering scars.
Paul seemed a thoughtful, respectful, deeply-emotional man, with a brighter vision for the future. I hope we remember to look forward with eyes of such positive possibility.

kcruver

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