Redevelopment of Seattle’s Memorial Stadium takes another step forward

Sep 21, 2023, 5:06 PM

Image: Memorial Stadium was built in 1947 in honor of Seattle Public Schools alums who died in Worl...

Memorial Stadium was built in 1947 in honor of Seattle Public Schools alums who died in World War II. (Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio)

A Seattle City Council committee unanimously approved a resolution Thursday to support the joint efforts of the Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Center to advance plans to redevelop Memorial Stadium.

The project, which will essentially rebuild the stadium, will cost $40 million.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a state-of-the-art stadium in the cultural heart of our city that puts the needs of Seattle’s students first,” Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez said in a statement. I am incredibly proud of the work we’ve done together during my time on (the) council to help this long-needed project break ground. Our work today will ensure Memorial Stadium remains an invaluable resource for our community for generations to come.”

Historian Feliks Banel: City advice to landmarks board for Memorial Stadium is a real head-scratcher

The new Memorial Stadium would host student athletics, concerts, professional sports, and other community events. It will also continue to honor Seattle’s veterans, preserving the historic Memorial Wall that lists the names of 762 former students who lost their lives in World War II. The stadium has served as a crucial venue for Seattle student-athletes and the community since it was built in 1947.

“This partnership will open the door to an exciting new future for Memorial Stadium,” said Marshall Foster, Director of Seattle Center. “The city’s commitment of funding, together with the school district, is essential for this partnership to move forward. We’re excited to take this next step.”

The resolution outlines the city’s support for Seattle Center to advance negotiations for a public-private partnership between the City of Seattle, Seattle Public Schools, and the One Roof Partnership to build and operate a new Memorial Stadium.

“The council’s resolution reaffirms our partnership and will enable us to develop a modern venue in the heart of our city that will support student-athletes, performing arts, and community use,” said Fred Podesta, COO of Seattle Public Schools.

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The legislation reaffirms the city’s previous funding commitments for the project, including its intent to work with the mayor to identify an additional $19M in the city’s future budget discussions for a total of $40M in City funding for the project.

The resolution now moves to a final council vote Tuesday. Final agreements to advance the project are expected to be considered by the Seattle School Board and the Seattle City Council in early 2024.

The new stadium is expected to be complete in 2026. But the release also states the project will be complete no later than the end of 2027.

More to the Memorial Stadium story

Complicating matters, the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board is considering Memorial Stadium as a city landmark and is expected to meet Oct. 4.

In an 8-1 vote on Aug. 16, the preservation board took a big step toward making that happen.

However, as KIRO Newsradio historian Feliks Banel explained, “the meeting was weird, and the preservation of the threatened structure is still far from guaranteed.”

The landmark designation process has a reputation for being weird in Seattle, and Memorial Stadium is apparently no exception. One local preservationist told KIRO Newsradio the process can be “like having a defense attorney working to get the defendant executed.”

More from Feliks Banel: Memorial Stadium landmark process bizarre, twisted

This is especially true when the owner of the potential landmark does not want it to be designated as a landmark, which is the case with Seattle Public Schools and Memorial Stadium, Banel noted. The “execution” part of the metaphor comes from the fact that no one formally involved in the process — not the building owner, and not the Landmarks Board staff — is actually advocating for the structure to be designated a landmark.

In June, KIRO Newsradio reported Seattle Public Schools had “preemptively” submitted a landmark nomination for the stadium as part of the run-up to seeking a demolition permit, a move which had been anticipated since 2021. Back in June, a City of Seattle spokesperson described the process as “wonky” and “a bit complicated.”

For historic preservation advocates who pay attention to these things, the original structure is so unaltered it offers a chance to examine and understand rare design and construction techniques that were revolutionary at the time when Memorial Stadium was built. For those advocating an approach to Memorial Stadium similar to what was done to the old Seattle Center Coliseum (aka Key Arena) to create Climate Pledge Arena, the possibilities for renovation and upgrades – which would preserve the shell of the original memorial structure – are intriguing and exciting.

However, for unknown reasons, Climate Pledge Arena-like options, which are also less impactful environmentally than new construction, aren’t on the table now.

Seattle Public Schools has made it clear that they do not want Memorial Stadium to be designated as a landmark because they want to tear down the stadium – though they say they want landmark designation for the neglected and derelict Memorial Wall of names of World War II dead, which was added in 1951.

Contributing: Feliks Banel, KIRO Newsradio; Steve Coogan

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Redevelopment of Seattle’s Memorial Stadium takes another step forward