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Originally published August 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 19, 2008 at 12:41 AM

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Council OKs plan for Seattle Center

How the city will raise the money isn't clear, but the Seattle City Council on Monday set an ambitious $567 million master plan to transform Seattle Center into the nation's best gathering place.

Seattle Times staff reporter

How the city will raise the money isn't clear, but the City Council on Monday approved an ambitious $567 million plan to transform Seattle Center into the nation's best gathering place.

Over two decades, the site of the 1962 World's Fair would be transformed to include a new Memorial Stadium covering a vast underground parking garage, a renovated glass-enclosed Center House to draw visitors from every direction, and an outdoor Fun Forest activity area to replace the carnival rides.

"Seattle Center will be attractive, inviting to people of all ages and affordable for everyone," said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the Parks and Seattle Center Committee. "People shouldn't have to purchase tickets or go to a performance to go to Seattle Center. It should be a major attraction, as any park would be."

The city at this point does not have a funding plan.

"It is a long-range plan, so we will be paying for it incrementally over time," said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "It's going to be a combination of private money, foundation money and public money, much as previous improvements to the center have been."

Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams predicted that the first phase of development will be on its way toward completion by April 2012, the campus's 50th anniversary.

What the first phase will include — "that's to be determined," he said. These are the major features of the plan:

• Fun Forest. Remaking the Fun Forest amusement area will likely be the first step, Nellams said, because the operator's lease ends in January 2010. A skating rink, sculptural jungle gym and splash fountain would replace the carnival rides.

• Memorial Stadium. The city and Seattle Public Schools are negotiating an agreement for the future of the 1948 stadium. To create more open, usable space, the city wants to tear down the concrete walls and move the sports field to the eastern side of the current stadium. Those changes would expand the International Fountain area by 4 acres. A 1,300-space parking garage would be built underneath the stadium, and delivery trucks, school buses and Metro buses would access the campus through the garage. This would also allow the existing parking garages on Mercer Street to be razed, and their sites could be redeveloped.

• Center House. Several walls and the roof in the 1939 structure would be replaced with glass to create a more open feeling. The roof would be turned into a view terrace with a restaurant. A new Bubbleator, an icon of the World's Fair, would take people up to the roof.

• Environmental sustainability. Rainwater would be collected on the site and reused.

Planning for a reinvigorated Seattle Center has been under way for two years. An advisory group appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels issued recommendations after holding 60 meetings and hearing from 1,000 people.

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Nellams said the Seattle Center has relied on 60 percent private and 40 percent public funding for about $700 million in capital investments made over the past 18 years. Voters in 1998 approved a property-tax increase that raised about $30 million for both McCaw Hall and Fisher Pavilion. That levy has expired.

Seattle property owners could see a 2010 property-tax proposal to fund the new plan. Earlier this year, the mayor suggested asking voters for funding for both Seattle Center and city parks in two years. His term ends in 2009, and he is expected to run for a third term.

Against the mayor's wishes, the City Council added a Nov. 4 ballot measure for parks funding.

The City Council adopted the new master plan 7-0 with the support of Council President Richard Conlin and members Rasmussen, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Jan Drago, Jean Godden and Nick Licata. Councilmembers Bruce Harrell and Richard McIver were absent.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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