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Monday, November 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Feeling the pinch at McCaw Hall

Many patrons of Seattle's sparkling new McCaw Hall already have given money to build the performance center for opera and ballet. But a roughly $2 ticket surcharge should be imposed, because the city cannot bear the full brunt of unpaid building costs.

McCaw Hall is not an exemplary public-private partnership — not because private donors held back in any way. Generous arts supporters helped McCaw Hall meet the private donation goal of $72 million, which is spectacular.

The city also met its $38 million obligation and beyond. Last week, the Seattle City Council agreed to pay half the debt cost of the outstanding $11.5 million for two years. Unfortunately, to make the numbers work, the ticket-buying public has to help, too, by paying the surcharge at McCaw.

The real problem lies with an underlying plan that assumed King County and the state would contribute $11.5 million more to the project than they have so far.

When voters approved McCaw Hall in 1999, the city was booming. Creators of the deal expected the county and state combined would contribute $17 million. But there were no agreements in writing, a mistake for which the city, the opera and ballet are now paying.

Shortly after the improvements were authorized, the local economy tanked. King County's budget went into a downward spiral. The state budget tightened considerably.

And the sour economic climate hammered the city budget, which has been cutting human services, library hours and other programs. In such a climate, the city cannot justify cutting basic services to cover debt on this building.

Representatives of the city and arts groups should continue to press the county and state to increase contributions to a project that enhances the larger region. There is room for a leader to convene a gathering of all interested parties to bring about a more appealing conclusion. A press release from the arts groups blasting the mayor was an ill-advised hissyfit.

In the long run, the arts community and city are better off having a building that will provide high-level entertainment for many years. But for the short term, ticket buyers and arts groups will feel an uncomfortable pinch.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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