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Elaborate 4.5-acre Chinese garden planned
Seattle Times staff reporter
With stones, water and bamboo landscapes nestled around teahouses, pavilions and bridges, Chinese gardens are, by design, elaborate showcases.
Seattle, though, wants the Taj Mahal of Chinese gardens.
In July, near the north parking lot of South Seattle Community College, construction is to begin on one of the most ambitious horticultural projects on the West Coast — a Chinese garden three times the combined size of the acclaimed Chinese gardens in Portland and Vancouver, B.C.
The 4.5-acre garden, with a view of downtown, the mountains and Elliott Bay, will include a lake the size of Husky Field and an 85-foot tower visible from Interstate 5.
Its master plan also calls for a 200-seat banquet hall, an education center, a teahouse, exhibition building and other pavilions, along with covered walkways, calligraphy art and sculpture.
"People will come from all over the country and all over Asia to see this," said David Buck, board president of the Seattle Chinese Garden Society, a nonprofit group of civic and business leaders that manages the project.
The garden is expected to cost $30 million to build over a 10-year span, with the Chinese government and companies with trade ties to Asia expected to be major contributors, board members said. About $6.7 million has been raised already to begin the first phase.
The expected benefits of the completed garden are as ambitious as the project itself — to improve trade relations with the state's third-largest trading partner (after Japan and Canada), to boost tourism in South King County and to raise the profile of South Seattle Community College, often considered the stepchild to North and Central Seattle community colleges.
Such gardens are revered in China, where they are the pulse of the community, a place for intellectual discussion and gatherings to practice tai chi. That cultural significance is not lost on local businesses with trade ties to Asia.
Boeing, for instance, plans to host dignitaries and other Chinese executives at the Seattle garden. "In Asia, relationship-building and cultural sensitivity are part of doing business," said Bill Stafford, president of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle.
Stafford, while working in the office of then-Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, was among those who came up with the garden concept to honor the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing, which became Seattle's sister city in 1983. The Seattle Chinese Garden Society was formed shortly after that to raise money.
Construction will be done in several stages, the exact number depending on fund-raising, board members said.
While the city of Seattle, King County and the state have contributed nearly $2 million, city and county officials agree the private sector would carry most of the remaining financial burden.
Boeing has donated $1.5 million, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $500,000. Members of the garden society's board of directors said they are confident the remaining $23 million can be raised over the next 10 years. There will be a entrance fee to help maintain the garden.
China is such an important trade partner that having a cultural icon here is an important gesture, said board member Jon Geiger, a Boeing executive.
Unlike American gardens, stones and water are the main elements of Chinese gardens, signifying the body of Earth and its bloodline. Flowers are mere backdrops.
The United States has only two full-scale Chinese gardens: the Portland Classical Chinese Garden and the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden on Staten Island.
Gardens are in the early planning stages in San Marino, Calif., and in Washington, D.C.
Seattle's will be distinctive among those in North America in that it will be built in the style of the Sichuan province to reflect the culture of its sister city. The plants will be denser, and the architectural designs will be influenced by the seventh- and eighth-century Tang dynasty, said Jan Kowalczewski Whitner, a horticulture instructor at South Seattle Community College and an expert on Chinese gardens.
The first phase, to be completed by fall 2006, according to the garden society, is to include the lake, an education center for the college's horticultural program, and the laying of foundations for future pavilions. Hundreds of bamboo, Chinese bonsai and other Asian shrubs, trees and flowers will be planted.
A pavilion and bridge, part of a small demonstration garden installed at the site in 1999, will be moved during excavation and reset later.
After Phase 1, the priority is building the banquet hall to generate revenue from weddings, business meetings and shows, board members said.
The city of Chongqing, which donated $700,000 in labor and materials, will fly in craftsmen to work on the calligraphy, carved windows and other detailed designs, garden officials said.
Optimism over the project comes from supporters who look to the south and see the success of the Portland Chinese garden and to the north to see the popularity of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver. Annually, those gardens draw 120,000 and 95,000 visitors, respectively.
The Chinese are among the most frequent visitors and the biggest donors, encouraging signs because the state of Washington has about 56,000 Chinese, among the nation's largest communities.
South Seattle Community College also stands to benefit, city and county officials said. The campus has added an Asian studies program to complement the garden. Its culinary program likely will pick up catering business from the banquet hall. And the profile of its horticultural program could rise as well.
"In many ways, it will put South Seattle (Community College) on many maps it has not been on," said college President Jill Wakefield.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Board president of the Seattle Chinese Garden Society
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company