A green dream for Seattle Center

There has been a lot of discussion lately about what to do about the Seattle Center, which is definitely looking a bit frayed around the edges these days.

For Seattle Weekly founder and former publisher David Brewster, the answer is simple: Get rid of buildings like the Center House and replace them with green space.

Brewster, a Madrona resident who set up and until recently ran the Town Hall programs, even has a small core of supporters. The group calls itself Friends of Green, or FROG, and they tout the idea of turning the Seattle Center into a major park as a way to address a glaring deficit in downtown green space.

It's an issue he wrote about in an April op-ed piece in a daily paper, but Brewster took the idea on the road by speaking at a July 13 meeting of the Uptown Alliance, a planning group in Lower Queen Anne. Brewster also promoted the idea that the Seattle Center could become a neighborhood park.

As a member of a downtown parks task force, he noted that it would be too expensive to buy enough downtown land for a major Seattle park. "So it has to be in an existing space."

That's why the Seattle Center would be the perfect location, according to Brewster. "A lot of properties in the middle here have reached the end of their effective lives," he said.

That includes Memorial Stadium. "So maybe you can take that out," said Brewster, who suggested replacing the Seattle School District property with an underground parking garage that could be lidded with green space.

He also noted that a recent task-force report about the Seattle Center criticized the Fun Forest carnival as past its prime. "OK, there's some more open space," Brewster said.

A map he brought to the meeting also showed the complete elimination of the Northwest Rooms. Brewster, however, said that was a mistake because it would take out the future home of the Vera Project, a youth-music-and-performance venue.

Conceding it was a controversial idea, he said all the activities in the Center House could be shifted to the perimeter of the Seattle Center-maybe to the KeyArena if the Sonics and the Storm pull up stakes and move elsewhere. "So you can create a park by sort of moving the chess pieces around," is how Brewster put it.

He wouldn't venture even a guess at the costs involved, but Brewster denied he was dreaming an impossible dream. Seattle city government is committed to having more people living downtown, and it is getting serious about providing downtown amenities such as parks, he said in a later interview. "So we have that tide going with us."

Brewster also wondered whether it would cost more to rehabilitate the Seattle Center than turn it into a park. But he was also trolling for support at the Uptown Alliance meeting by saying the Seattle Center should serve as a neighborhood park. "So we want it to be like Green Lake."

Sheri Olson, a FROG member and a Queen Anne resident who serves on the city's Design Commission, agreed the Seattle Center would make a good neighborhood park.

"I find it's not the place I think of going when I want to take my child someplace," she said. There's just not enough green space, according to Olson.

Turning the Seattle Center into a neighborhood park could help jumpstart development in the immediate neighborhood, she added. "This is a chance to invest in our future."

Uptown Alliance member John Gessner picked up on the same theme. Neighborhood residents avoid the Seattle Center during the various festivals each year, he said. "We go somewhere else."

Gessner also predicted that more neighborhood families would use the space more if it was a park.

Whether Brewster's idea gets much traction remains to be seen. But Uptown Alliance member John Coney was highly critical of the proposal as well as Brewster's attempt to curry local favor by emphasizing the neighborhood park aspect of the plan.

Coney said he moved here because the Seattle Center is "the world's greatest meeting place." The Seattle Center plays host to diverse activities for people from all over the Puget Sound region, he noted. "I, for one, don't want to give up that function," Coney said. "I'm not ready to suck the center out of the Center."

Still, Brewster said the Seattle Center has the potential of becoming one of the greatest downtown parks in America. He conceded that the city may come up with a plan to successfully revitalize the Queen Anne attraction.

"If somehow that doesn't work, we want to be plan B," Brewster said. It's the city's only chance to create a major downtown park, he added.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at rzabel@nwlink.com or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]