Archive for February, 2012

Living Seattle Center

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Rethinking the Seattle Center is a favorite civic pastime. When the general public hears about it, the topic is Big Plans, whether the ill-fated Disney concept in the late 80s, the more recent visioning, or whatever might happen to Key Arena. But meanwhile, little upgrades and outside influences are perhaps more important in what the Center is now, and what it will become.

At 50 years old, the Center is already pretty darn good, for all its imperfections and missed opportunities. It’s many things to many people — the first or second place tourists visit, an event center 365 days of the year, a park, and, if the Market is the city’s heart, certainly another vital organ…the lungs perhaps. It does all this while remaining a 24/7 great place to be,

Photo by Chris Eden
whether raucous during an event, pristine for a walk late at night, or semi-active on a weekend morning.

Today is a good time to visit the Center House. The Food Court upgrades are one of those little changes, “little” being relative. From a passer-by perspective, they seem to be somewhere after demo and some shell upgrades but before the addition of new food outlets. Yet what a cool new perspective right now! The west side of the main hall is opened up to the outer wall, with windows to a new dining balcony on that side. Also, more of the south entrance area is now open the to hall. Together, the feeling is a bigger, brighter space, but still the Center House many of us love. It’s worth a visit if you’re nearby and curious.

Other “little” items include the planned KEXP studio at First & Republican, which promises to enliven a dead corner, the recent skate park addition (teenagers are reportedly people too!), and the Theater Commons and Donnelly Gardens, which turned a block-long glorified service entry at Second & Mercer into mostly human space. The Chihuly Garden and Glass, rising next to the Space Needle, qualifies as big. Together, these changes and many others help the Center be more things for more people, and keep it fresh, both in repair terms and with new things to explore.

Maybe because the Center is such as good “destination,” when people think of improvements they tend to think in those terms — filling the clock with more attractions and events. But the rise of the surrounding neighborhoods and new connections are showing new promise for the Center.

Some is the simple addition of more residents and workers. This is already happening and seems poised to continue, particularly on the residential side. The second is neighborhood connections. In the coming years, the Great Wall of Aurora will go away between Harrison and Denny, Broad will have less traffic (ending at 5th & Thomas), and the Mercer underpass will be rebuilt. Suddenly a horrible walk from SLU will be much nicer and shorter.

With more people and better access, in 2013 and especially by 2017, we’ll have a lot more people within walking distance. The surrounding neighborhoods will never be dense enough to make the Center busy by themselves; festivals or at least opera/theater/game nights are needed for that. But office workers and residents hang out, buy coffee or lunch, or simply walk through on the way home. When on foot or bike, they simply integrate the Center into their lives — more people being there, shopping there, whatever, while also sometimes attending events and visiting museums. The Center, like any urban retail, attraction, or park, doesn’t need to be in frenzy mode all the time; moderating the slow times a bit can be a big success.

And that’s where the Center is headed.

For more information about the Center House project, go here.