Opposition to Monorail Route Escalates
Several Seattle City Council members, including Nick Licata and council president Peter Steinbrueck, agree. Last week, at least four of nine council members (the council has to approve the Seattle Center portion of the route) seemed skeptical, if not outright hostile, toward the idea of going through the Center. Judy Nicastro, otherwise a monorail proponent, says that "to have a monorail going over your head and cutting through that large, beautiful open space... will absolutely destroy it." Even Licata, the council's most stalwart monorail supporter, says building in front of the International Fountain could "devalue what is very critical open space in our community, and do irreparable damage."
Why all the fuss? After all, the open space in question takes up just two city blocks. And the surrounding Center itself is more amusement park than sacred ground. The area around the fountain (though open and green) is surrounded by buildings and hemmed in by several theaters, Memorial Stadium, and KeyArena--hardly the ideal atmos- phere for quiet and contemplation. And the Seattle Center Advisory Commission--a mayor-appointed group made up of "stakeholders" from around the Center--signed off on the route in March. Tom Weeks, chair of the monorail project's board, says the new alignment better serves the Space Needle, EMP, and a nearby QFC. And at least one council member, Jan Drago, thinks the route will actually be a benefit for Center festivals like Bumbershoot. "It'll bring millions of people through [the Center]," Drago says.
But those who want to keep the monorail off the Center say the issue isn't so much open space as a lack of public input; they contend that the community around the Center didn't get enough time to respond to the agency's plans before it adopted the controversial alignment in April. Representatives of the summer festivals weren't included in the Seattle Center Advisory Commission, and didn't even see the route until two weeks before it was adopted. Opponents also point to the master plan for the Center, which says the open land around the International Fountain "should be preserved as the 'heart' of the Center." Elsewhere, the plan stipulates that transportation "should not segment the site." By cutting a swath through the Center, opponents argue, the monorail would do exactly that. "From a public policy standpoint, it doesn't make sense to have the monorail cutting through the only green space capable of handling that quantity of people," Bumbershoot producer Jane Zalutsky said when the route was adopted.
While complaints about the Center route could be written off as NIMBY obstructionism to protect a small plot of land in an already developed jumble--there's an arcade and an amusement park just two blocks southeast--the issue could still blossom into the monorail project's biggest hurdle yet.
Paul Allen's Vulcan Northwest Inc., which owns EMP, will likely be Agency's main ally. The museum, which was built around the existing monorail, will clearly benefit from the changes, many of which Vulcan requested just weeks before the preferred alignment was chosen. Running the monorail north of the Center along Mercer Street, as the monorail agency had originally proposed, would leave a gaping hole in the museum, giving EMP a strong case for running the monorail across the Center.
Vulcan staffers have reportedly been trolling city hall in recent months, and their employees have donated hundreds of dollars to council incumbents Peter Steinbrueck and Margaret Pageler. Steinbrueck is up for reelection this November. Vulcan also sponsored an election kickoff party for council member Jim Compton, who says he has not made up his mind on the Seattle Center issue.