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The Controversial Birth of a
first protean ideas for a
The First Pitch
In the summer of 1959, Barb Restaurants Inc.
President David L. Cohn sent a letter to the Seattle City Council that would
stimulate public debate for decades.
Two primary concerns undercut this first
public pitch. The stadium could not be built, many thought, without first
securing a major professional sports franchise. More importantly, the stadium's
budget was in question. Could an architectural gem and city landmark be
constructed for $15 million? The public could not swallow this optimistic
estimate and defeated Proposition 2 on November 8, 1960, by 158,747 to 148,520
Not So Instant Replay
Despite the defeat of Proposition 2, stadium
advocates pushed the idea ahead. Meanwhile,
What better way to celebrate a new modern
city than a shining, streamlined coliseum? As the American Football League and
other sports franchises sought expansion, and as sporting events began to be
nationally telecast, this civic backdrop gained importance. The 1938 Sicks'
Stadium seated only 15,000 fans. Husky Stadium was proud of its longstanding
In 1963, Pacific Raceways Inc. proposed a
sports complex including a stadium, golf course, swimming pool, motel, cocktail
lounge, bowling alley, and landing strip. The imagined, privately funded complex
would be located in
The floating stadium near
On September 20, 1966, after considerable
campaigning, the stadium initiative lost yet again. Facing this defeat, stadium
proponents buoyed themselves when the American Football League announced plans
to activate three new teams by 1970, bringing the franchise total up to 28. This
sparked the creation of a 12 person committee, headed by Joseph E. Gandy, which
began exploring stadium financing.
Public funding required public participation,
and local voters were historically sensitive to their rights and to the power of
government. In the late 1960s, this spirit escalated.
The controversial issue of funding the
stadium with public monies snared the project in a very sticky and recalcitrant
web of agitated public discourse.
By 1967, the proposed budget for the imagined
stadium rose to $40 million, and more groups joined the fray as advocates
presented a variety of sites. Stadium proponents rejoiced as their pet issue
fell under the umbrella of a new comprehensive capital improvement plan known as
The Forward Thrust package proposed sweeping
improvements in transportation, parks, recreational facilities, and community
centers totaling $815.2 million. Voters approved $334 million in bonds on
February 13, 1968, including $40 million earmarked for the stadium.
Unfortunately, another battery of problems undermined the stadium's progress:
|Interest rates rose to 6 percent, which warped a stadium budget
based on a 4.65 percent rate. |
|The Environmental Protection Act was passed in 1968, and this
required professional impact statements for new construction. |
|Heightened citizen participation in the wake of Forward Thrust
complicated the stadium issue. |
In 1968, 110 potential sites were considered,
including 94 recommended by individuals and 15 selected by a consulting team.
The State Stadium Committee whittled this number down to 12, then down to 5:
Rejects included the current site, which was
ranked lowest of the 12 interim contenders:
|Bothell-Woodinville Interchange |
The sites were ranked according to a slate of
criteria including: market area, cost, accessibility, configuration,
environment, community acceptance, availability, competition, flexibility, and
For the Last Time, No!
The Stadium Committee chose the
In 1970, inflation and interest rates
continued to rise. Could the stadium be built for $40 million? many wondered.
The County reconsidered the site near King Street Station, and funded a
feasibility study. A stadium could be built for $40 million, the study reported,
but parking would cost an additional $8 million. Some wondered if this stadium
would be the same stadium proposed in 1960.
Heading up the phalanx of doubting citizens,
Frank Ruano (1920-2005) argued aggressively against the County's management of
the stadium problem. Local government and County Executive John Spellman in
particular, he asserted, were lying to the public. This was an especially
serious challenge because
This discontent thwarted quick action.
By 1971, many people had had enough. Although
community activists like Frank Ruano continued to lob complaints at the County
Council, bids for the new stadium on the
During the Kingdome's official groundbreaking
ceremonies on November 2, 1972, some 25 young Asian protesters hurled mudballs
at the dignitaries in attendance. Several hundred spectators watched as County
Executive Spellman's speech drew chants -- "Stop the Stadium!" -- From
agitators. Dissenters booed other speakers, including a Seattle Kings
representative seeking to attract a professional football franchise. Spellman
hastily planted the gold home plate on the field, and a football was quickly
kicked through ceremonial uprights. The ceremony was a bust.
Dissent continued throughout the stadium's
construction. International District groups prepared for the worst, thinking the
Kingdome would overwhelm the scale of their neighborhood, create noise and light
pollution, clog the district with traffic, and escalate parking problems. In
January 1973, steel towers forming the core of the stadium's sturdy concrete
piers fell on a workman, and toppled other standing towers like dominos.
Spellman terminated the County's contract
with the Donald M. Drake Co., a decision that drew even more fire from citizens
concerned with overspending. Drake, responsible for much of the concrete dome's
construction, was dismissed for being 300 days behind schedule and failing at
"basic performance." Neither the County's design committee nor the
contractors wanted to be responsible for the structural integrity of the
innovative hyperbolic paraboloid dome.
Bob Sowder of
Some worried about the quality of this
A Very Grand Opening
No mudballs were lobbed at the grand opening.
On March 27, 1976, the Kingdome opened to a crowd of 54,000. The ceremony, as
described by its coordinator Tommy Walker, included "ethnic groups, Boy
Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, armed forces color guards, antique and
classic cars, log rollers, drill teams, square dancers, barbershoppers, a choral
group of 1,717 voices from 23 schools and a massed band of 2,680 instruments
from 32 schools ... and Rufus, the Frisbee-chasing dog."
The single largest event during its first
year was a Billy Graham Crusade that drew 74,000 visitors on May 17, 1976. On
April 7 of the same year, the Kingdome hosted a Sounders soccer match that broke
North American attendance records with 50,200 fans. The Seattle
Post-Intelligencer dubbed 1976 "The Year of the Dome" and included
a Kingdome icon in its banner throughout the year. Although many people were
thrilled, and hoped the battle was over, controversy followed the stadium
throughout its 25 year life.
The Kingdome was imploded on March 26, 2000.
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