Sleepless in Seattle

Money woes prompt panic at Seattle opera, ballet
SEATTLE — With the local economy flying high with dot-com dollars and public and private money gushing, Seattle built a grand, airy new space in its civic hub to house the Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
But things changed before the $172 million hall even opened its doors a year and a half ago, and ballet and opera officials now worry the fancy digs could ruin them.
The glassy facade of McCaw Hall is the newest addition to Seattle Center, the 76-acre complex at the city’s heart that includes the Space Needle and serves as venue for events ranging from the annual blowout Bumbershoot Arts Festival to the impromptu public grieving that followed Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
City voters approved $38 million for the hall in 1999. Private donors – led by cellular telephone magnate Craig McCaw and his brothers – kicked in $72 million. Optimistic planners expected King County and the state – flush with tax dollars during the boom – would help cover the difference.
But then the dot-coms went bust. The Sept. 11 attacks blew a big hole in the region’s aerospace industry. The ranks of unemployed swelled.
Public budget-writers were scrambling to cover basics: There was no big money available for high culture.
So a $13 million chunk of the bill remains unpaid. The state and county kicked in only $5.5 million, less than a third of what planners had hoped for.
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