Using Arts To Revitalize the Core of a Metropolitan Region

Innovative public-private partnerships and shared resources have driven the success of Seattle's arts-oriented economic development. Within the past decade, the City of Seattle, King County, the State of Washington, and the private sector have invested a total of $240 million in flagship cultural facilities at the heart of the city. At capacity, these facilities draw 10,000 people per night into the downtown, filling restaurants, shops, parking facilities, and most importantly, ensuring a bustling and safe downtown well into the night. The downtown also hosts a number of small and start-up arts groups and commercial art galleries. Collectively, the arts in Seattle generated more than $150 million annually in economic activity, and created 8,200 full- and part-time jobs in 1992.

Seattle has garnered the title as one of the country's most livable cities. Mountains, water, and a near-mythical relationship with coffee accent the popularity of the city, but the heart of its success is an extraordinarily vital downtown.

Ten years ago, however, downtown business activity was stagnant, with a 17 percent vacancy rate in 18 million square feet of office space. Political and business leaders both looked to the arts as a catalyst for sustained growth, with investment in the city's cultural facilities as a central strategy to economic redevelopment.

The results of this revitalization of downtown have been remarkable:

Businesses have built an additional 11 million square feet of new office space, with another 4 million square feet under construction.

The city's 29 million square feet of office space is now 95 percent occupied.

Downtown is now home to 2,300 retail businesses, with hundreds more on the way.

Twenty-two percent of the city's general fund revenues come from the downtown retail core.

More than 15,000 people make downtown their home with another 1,000 residences -- ranging from luxury condominiums to affordable housing units -- currently under construction.

Shared Support, Shared Benefits

With a population of nearly 1.6 million residents in a 2,128-square-mile radius, King County, which encompasses Seattle, is the nation's twelfth most populous city. County officials have recognized that improvements in the county's urban core serve the entire region, and have directed $7 million towards downtown arts facilities. Much of this investment has been paid for from a portion of county hotel/motel tax revenues. Although the percentage of this tax directed towards cultural activities is relatively small, the revenues have allowed the county to target and support key cultural facilities. Use of these taxes for the arts has produced a strong and synergistic relationship, since construction of new arts facilities promotes the tourism on which this revenue stream relies.

Through a variety of mechanisms, the City of Seattle has backed its commitment to enhance the vitality of its downtown through the arts. With contributions of cash and in the transfer of development rights, the city has dedicated approximately $45 million to construction of cultural facilities downtown.

The State of Washington, working on an initiative by the Corporate Council for the Arts and The Boeing Company, created the Building for the Arts program in 1991. This prestigious program provides state funds for up to 15 percent of the total capital cost for selected arts facilities. Over four legislative budget cycles, Building for the Arts has authorized nearly $30 million for about 60 arts projects around the state, including $10 million for three arts facilities in the heart of Seattle's downtown.

The corporate community has provided pivotal support, supporting an average of 15 to 25 percent of the overall cost of construction for these facilities. The corporate sector also has provided leadership, with CEOs of some of the region's largest companies heading the drives for new facilities.

As a result of these investments, five major new or renovated facilities now form downtown Seattle's cultural nucleus: the Seattle Art Museum, the Fifth Avenue Theatre, Paramount Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre, and the new Benaroya Concert Hall, slated for completion in autumn 1998.

How the Partnership Is Paying Off

Already a prominent feature in the downtown landscape, Benaroya Hall's construction budget of $109 million exemplifies strong public-private partnership. The City of Seattle is the project's largest single supporter, with commitments of $41 million. The state has provided $8 million through the Building for the Arts program; the county has provided $3 million; and corporations, foundations and individuals are making up the balance.

Construction expenditures for the hall already are creating business sales of $180 million in the state, as well as 1,700 direct and indirect jobs. Once it opens, expenditures by the hall and its half-million annual patrons will yield $46 million in business sales statewide.

Kreielsheimer Place, the new downtown home of A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), was completed in 1996. The project combines the renovation of a historic landmark, creation of three new theatre spaces, and construction of 44 units of affordable housing. In this innovative project, ACT collaborated from the start with Housing Resource Group-Seattle to provide affordable housing, which is in high demand in the city. About 10 percent of the project's $30 million price tag went to construction of apartment units. This combined use made the project very attractive to both public and private funders.

The State of Washington, the building's previous owner, launched the project by transferring the site and structure to ACT. With further strong support from the corporate and public sectors, the building has become a downtown destination, attracting audiences of 90,000 annually. Its success in combining affordable housing, theatres, and historic preservation recently earned the facility an Urban Landmark Institute award.

As Seattle and King County become increasingly important as an international crossroads midway between Asia and Europe, the vitality of its downtown is one of its greatest assets. Both public and private leadership and broad-based community support have recognized the essential role the arts play in forming the center of a world-class city. Seattle Mayor Norm Rice recently described it this way: "Each of these projects is an important element in our plans to create a downtown that people of all ages -- from boomers, to X-ers, to our seniors -- will find exciting, making them want to visit downtown during the evening as well as the day." With the cultural infrastructure the city has in place, downtown Seattle enters the next century as a powerful magnet for commerce and residence.

For further information, contact:

Wendy Ceccherelli, Director
Seattle Arts Commission

Leonard Garfield, Director
King County Arts Commission

Peter Donnelly, President
Corporate Council for the Arts

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The United States Conference of Mayors

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
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