Four speakers from different aspects of Paul G. Allen’s life will share the stage at a civic banquet on Oct. 30 to pay tribute to Allen, this year’s recipient of the Seattle-King County First Citizen Award.
Bill Gates, James Kelly, Sen. Patty Murray and Tod Leiweke will share accolades and anecdotes when they talk about their connection to Allen, founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc., and some of the reasons for his selection as 2008’s First Citizen. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the prestigious award, which was created by the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors® (SKCAR) in 1939 to celebrate community leadership, volunteerism and public service.
Paul Allen is an empire builder and with his vision, he has changed the look, feel and vision of Seattle. He owns 2,600,000 square feet in the South Lake Union neighborhood. He’s developed new residential, office, retail and biotech research space and this redevelopment represents one of the largest urban revitalization projects in the country. His employees lobbied the Mayor and Seattle City Council to upzone this and other neighborhoods around the city, changing the social fabric and the conversion of Seattle as parochial backwater to bustling cityscape with distinct high-rise urban villages.
I have mixed feelings about his accomplishments and contributions to our city. On one hand, I appreciate his philanthropy, his donations to the UW and his creation of his Brain Institute. On the other hand, I’m not sure I approve of the uh…. Vancouverizaton of the South Lake Union area. The most interesting neighborhoods grow organically, made up of residents, shops, shopkeepers, services, art and public spaces. I do not believe that planned communities can ever match the vibrancy of a neighborhood that has developed over many years. His South Lake Union community has created residences to house the workers that work there. Like a glittery, upscale company town, it’s a fancy rat cage for the little mousies that can’t step off the treadmill for fear they’ll lose their granite-countered condos.
I am also bitter about problems that only Paul Allen could have solved. I don’t fault Bill for not funding certain frivolous community pet projects. After all, he has a family and is busy saving lives with his Gates Foundation. But Paul, he’s buying yachts and his favorite sports teams and venues, the EMP and the Science Fiction Museum. If he can spend his money on those boy-toy sort of things, he could certainly spend some of that on some of my favorite civic projects.
One of our biggest losses was the Kalakala. a former ferry that operated on Puget Sound from 1935 until its retirement in 1967.
Kalakala was notable for its unique streamlined superstructure, art deco styling, and luxurious amenities. The vessel was a popular attraction for locals and tourists, and was voted second only to the Space Needle in popularity among visitors to Seattle during the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.
After its retirement in 1967, the vessel was sold to a seafood processing company and towed to Alaska to work as a factory ship. There, a group of artists discovered the rusting hulk in 1984, purchased the vessel, and managed to refloat her and tow her back to Seattle in 1998. The vessel has since been a source of controversy as its owners were unable to raise sufficient funds to refurbish the vessel or even to keep her moored in Seattle’s Union Bay. That’s where Paul Allen could have stepped in. The vessel was sold in 2004 to a private investor, who moved it to an anchorage in Neah Bay provided by the Makah Tribe. Who knows what’s going to happen to it now.
What a great opportunity Paul had, to keep the Kalakala in Seattle and moor it in South Lake Union, at the Center for Wooden Boats and near the Armory where the Museum of History and Industry will be relocating.
It’s probably not too late. He could buy back the Kalakala, restore it, turn it into a floating museum or fancy dinner ship or what ever he wanted. Paul Allen owns the worlds largest privately owned yacht, the “Octopus” plus an entire fleet of other yachts, including the Tatoosh and the Meduse. He obviously loves boats and feels an affinity for the sea. This would have been the perfect public works project for him and the citizens of Seattle.
As you can see, I’m still bitter about this lost opportunity.
But I’ll be there, at the dinner to honor the things he has done right. It’s this coming Thursday, October 30th at the Sheraton in Downtown Seattle. Though this civic award is sponsored by the Seattle King County Association of Realtors, anyone can attend. Click HERE for tickets.