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LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Fairgrounds could be a cultural icon
I wanted to thank Paul Schell for pointing to the Pike Place Market PDA as an example of a well designed organization that has managed a public space for decades in the article, “Proposed PDA: how it works, what it is” in the March 8 edition of The Record. His mention of the market prompted me to do a little research into not only the PDA that runs it, but also the origins of its creation.
What I found was proof that, while history doesn’t repeat, it does rhyme. Seattle was faced, in 1968, with predictions that if the market wasn’t bulldozed to make room for “Scheme 23; The Pike Plaza,” a hotel/parking garage complex, the city would continue its economic decline. The market, with buildings about the same age as those at our fairgrounds now, was seen as an under-utilized liability that should be removed to maximize commerce.
Despite the support of this plan by the political leadership in the city, the public succeeded in forming a non-profit PDA, chartered to preserve and protect the market as an historical resource. The volunteer board has, since that time, transformed this public space into a cultural icon while also fulfilling its mandate to “increase opportunities for farm and food retailing, support small and marginal businesses and provide services for low-income people” (pikeplacemarket.org).
Our community now faces a similar decision. Do we bulldoze our heritage to make room for commerce by forming a PDA that is charged with making a profit and must demolish buildings, issue $10 million in bonds to build new ones, while paying staff over $600,000.00 per year? Or can we consider a different approach? We have a regional example that shows that there is another path to what is arguably a greater success then the proposed fair plan even begins to imagine.
Through forming a non-profit organization to imaginatively preserve and manage the grounds, we would free the fair board to put on a great fair, while possibly creating our own cultural icon, steeped in history, but also alive in meeting the needs of the present.