Wednesday, October 16, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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No choice, complete Seattle's opera house

Mayor Nickels is right to ask for $27.8 million in loan money to finish the Seattle opera house.

The opera house, to be called McCaw Hall, was priced in early 2000 at $110 million. Of that, half was to come from private donors, $38 million from the city, $5 million from King County and $12 million from the state. The state and county figures were assumptions based on how much they had contributed to Benaroya Hall.

The stock market was just peaking. Private fund-raising was so good that backers expanded the opera house project by $17 million. Part was for better equipment and part to meet environmental standards that were desirable but optional. The extra money was to come from private donors.

Then came the recession. The state and the county, which had each contributed $2 million to the opera house, closed their purses. Private fund raising slowed, and Nickels was asked for an emergency loan.

Speaking on behalf of taxpayers, Councilman Nick Licata grumbles that the backers "took us for a ride" with the $17 million in improvements. Perhaps so, but it is done now. As Licata says, "It makes no sense to stop construction now." Half built, the opera house would be of no value to anyone.

The project, expansion and all, is more than three-quarters funded. Nickels has proposed that the city lend the remaining money so that McCaw Hall can open next June. Seattle's loan would be repaid by contributions, private and public, with any remaining debt to be covered by a charge on tickets. That is reasonable.

McCaw Hall's backers are asking the state for $6 million. Rep. Ed Murray, chairman of the Capital Budget Committee, says there may be some bond money, even if there is no chance of any general-fund money.

At King County, Executive Ron Sims says to forget it. "I told them that's all they would get." he said.

Opera patrons should be glad McCaw Hall is built, and not quibble over a tax on tickets. It will be a while before the city builds something similar.


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