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Friday, April 26, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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North Lot Opposed For New Stadium

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

If a new baseball stadium is built in the north parking lot of the Kingdome, it will effectively kill Pioneer Square's gallery scene, say owners of the area's art galleries.

Several owners said they would leave Pioneer Square because of the effect a north-lot stadium would have on their businesses.

They fear the vacated Kingdome would be used for additional events and that the crowds there and in the new stadium would drive away many regular customers who already stay away on days the Kingdome is used. Owners of Elliott Bay Book Co. and other bookstores also say their business will suffer.

In addition, two years of construction in the north lot would cause traffic and parking disruption, business owners say.

One longtime gallery owner, Don Foster, of Foster/White Gallery, has negotiated a lease that allows him to move if a stadium goes in the north lot, the northernmost of the three sites being considered for the new baseball stadium.

A stadium on the north lot "will be the death of Pioneer Square as we know it," said Greg Kucera, president of the art dealers' association and owner of a gallery.

"Where else would we find the historic buildings, the good will of landlords? I doubt it can be replicated elsewhere. And once the galleries go, the bookstores go, the antique shops go - what will be left? It's going to be T-shirt shops and beer mugs."

Many owners say they'll move their galleries out of Pioneer Square if the north lot is chosen.

Few think they could all find appropriate or affordable spaces in any other district and re-create the synergy they've spent decades building in Pioneer Square.

Gallery and bookstore owners say their plight is being overlooked by city planners and others picking a site for a new stadium.

"We know that we do 25 percent less business on Seahawk days," said Walter Carr, owner of Elliott Bay Book Co. "A year ago, we had the Final Four (college basketball finals) here, and I can demonstrate to you that our business dropped 40 percent over just four days.

"I don't want to move - we've got so much invested here. And one part of me would love to have a beautiful new stadium next door, even in the north lot - if there was a sensitivity in the process, if there was a receptivity to exploring all kinds of options, if there was a sense of community dialogue."

Trattoria Mitchelli owner Danny Mitchell, who supports the north-lot site, says the controversy is hurting Pioneer Square's community spirit.

"It's not good to pit neighbor against neighbor," he said. "Everybody has a different vision, and everybody thinks theirs is correct."

The commercial mix of the neighborhood likely would change if the north site is chosen.

"What will happen is that there will be more investment in eateries, watering holes, and shops selling sports paraphernalia," said Carr.

Booksellers and gallery owners say that retail mix would be less attractive to out-of-town tourists and area residents who now visit Pioneer Square primarily because of the galleries, antique shops and bookstores.

"Just about any sporting event (at the Kingdome) discourages retail business - except the obvious: bars and restaurants," says Mark Wessel, co-owner of Wessel and Lieberman Booksellers.

Proponents say a new stadium would draw more people who would shop and browse through Pioneer Square before and after the game. But Sam Davidson, a 23-year veteran of the Pioneer Square gallery scene, says Kingdome crowds do not stop at galleries.

"It doesn't matter what kind of event it is. People are focused on the most efficient way to get to it, then get home," he said. "The baseball playoff games were deadly. . . . No one came in. . . . How many businesses really can survive if they're essentially closed 200 days a year?"

Like many other gallery owners, Chris Bruce is not opposed to sports or a new stadium, and believes locating a new stadium on one of the proposed sites south of Kingdome would be far less detrimental to the Pioneer Square cultural scene.

"This is not a sports vs. art debate," Bruce said, "but about the future of a very unique neighborhood. Do we really want it filled up with T-shirt shops and a few more bars? Pioneer Square and the (Pike Place) Market are the two things that make Seattle Seattle.

"Do we really want to be Dallas instead?"

Seattle Times staff reporters Donn Fry and Jack Broom contributed to this report.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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