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Material on this page was published when Seahawks Stadium, now called Qwest Field, opened in 2002.
Friday, August 2, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
New stadium is out-of-dome experience
Seattle Times staff reporter
Rain or shine.
Of all the promises and expectations that accompany a lucrative investment such as Seahawks Stadium, this $430 million facility unlike its predecessor or its neighbor to the south offers no guarantees where weather is concerned. And that is the gamble the architects of the plan to bring professional outdoor football to Seattle are willing to take.
After two-plus decades inside the Kingdome, where the conditions were cozy, confined, carpeted and climate-controlled, the Seahawks have moved outside, with the hope their fans will follow.
"If you give people a world-class facility, which we believe we have ... and an exciting team to watch and cheer for, then we feel we have done our jobs," team president Bob Whitsitt said a few days before the stadium's grand opening. "That's about as much as we can do. Now we open the doors and see what happens."
This "If-you-build-it-they-will-come" philosophy may have been proven true last week, when the Seattle Sounders and the Sounders Select Women kicked off the stadium's inaugural season with a doubleheader against Vancouver in front of 25,515 soccer fans.
The attendance was significantly less than the 58,218 the Sounders drew in 1976 when they christened the Kingdome. Fewer than half of the new stadium's 67,000 seats were occupied, but it was a record-setting crowd for the A-League soccer team that had been struggling recently to draw interest.
"The boost we received just being in here was incredible," Sounders Coach Brian Schmetzer said. "It was just an amazing feeling."
The Seahawks expect a similar lift after a two-year stay at cross-town Husky Stadium, where they failed to sell out even one game inside the 68,589-seat building and the reception wasn't exactly warm and friendly.
"I don't expect that will be the case here. I've been through this sort of thing before, where everything is new and it's an exciting time. As a player, you tend to feed off of that. And I can only imagine as a fan that it's pretty exciting as well."
Perspective on Seahawks Stadium changes depending upon your point of view.
The building's 720-foot white roof trusses rise into the skyline and are clearly visible from West Seattle's Alki Beach, across Elliott Bay. The unique-looking building is already becoming as distinguishable as the Space Needle and settles nicely into the urban charm of the Pioneer Square district.
"One of the challenges was designing a stadium that complements the surrounding building in that area," said Kelly Kerns, senior project manager for Ellerbe Becket, the Minneapolis-based firm that designed the stadium.
From NFL headquarters in New York, league executives see one of four stadiums set to debut this season, and they scheduled the Seahawks for a "Monday Night Football" appearance at home in October.
From the stadium's 35-yard line, Seahawks season-ticket holder Todd Campbell and his family of three sat on the FieldTurf for a picnic during the grand opening two weeks ago. They lunched on concession foods and enjoyed the carnival-like setting in the afternoon sun as the sounds of reggae music thumped in the background.
"It's going to do for the Seahawks what Safeco (Field) did for the Mariners," said Campbell, a lifelong Everett resident. "I was around here when the Kingdome opened, and that was something else. It really was.
"A lot of people forget that, but the Kingdome was the place to be. It was loud, and that's where the 12th-man stuff started. ... This place can be the same. It just seemed like it was time for a change."
Billionaire Paul Allen began the change in 1996, when he bought the team from Ken Behring under one condition: He wanted to build a stadium with the help of the public.
"It didn't make sense to remain in the Kingdome from a business perspective," said Whitsitt, who sold Allen on the idea of buying the football team. "So that was the deal. It seemed pretty simple, but it was in no way a slam dunk."
Allen spent about $9 million on lobbying and campaign costs, which proved to be money well spent as Washington voters passed Referendum 48 by a narrow vote in June 1997.
The measure led to Allen purchasing the Seahawks for $200 million and capped public spending on the stadium, exhibition center and parking garage at $300 million. Allen was required to pay $130 million as well as any cost overruns.
Once the vote passed, there were few obstacles to clear. A year later, the Public Stadium Authority chose the Kingdome as site of the new stadium and imploded the Seahawks' old home in March 2000.
The team briefly haggled with soccer advocates about the installation of FieldTurf, an artificial surface, but settled the dispute after promising to roll in natural grass if Seattle were to land a World Cup event.
Construction began in July 2000, and two years later the project was completed.
The Seahawks took occupancy last night, when the team played an intrasquad scrimmage.
"Any process like that is going to take awhile," Allen said last month. "We're excited that we've got this great new facility that we're delivering a couple weeks early and on budget.
"We think the sight lines for the fans are going great, and the atmosphere will make it a landmark new stadium for the league, the fans, the city and everybody involved."
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