Since 2002, the Tateuchi Center has been envisioned as a 2,000-seat cultural hub for the Eastside. Things got off to a hot start, especially when Kemper Freeman, Jr. volunteered the land on Northeast 10th Street and 106th Avenue Northeast for the center in 2003. But fundraising slowed during the Great Recession; only recently has it picked up, notably with a $20 million commitment from the Bellevue City Council last year.
As CEO, it’s John Haynes’ job to rally public support, secure donors, and, eventually, run the center’s programs. Haynes has a proven track record in that regard. He has led arts organizations since 1992, including ones in San Diego and Notre Dame University. But before he can bring in an orchestra, Haynes’ team has to get the Tateuchi Center built. Any delays now come with a pricetag; that gift from the city will be pulled off the table if all fundraising isn’t finished by September. The organization has raised about $90 million to date. Only $100 million to go.
Q: What’s the state of the Tateuchi Center?
A: The building is totally designed; the permits are issued. Basically, the project’s ready to build. Of course, the corollary to that is we need to finish raising the money. We had a pretty good year in 2015. We raised all together, in pledges, $25 million. We want to close that up in 2016, which would be in the $100 million range to pay for the building in cash and build it in 2017.
Q: Why is it taking so long to raise the money?
A: It generally takes about 10 years to do these things. It’s run a little longer than that. You may remember that in 2009, the entire American economy ran into a brick wall. Philanthropy recovers about 18 to 24 months after a recession. It takes a while for people to regain their confidence, and if you’re going to build a $180 million building, you need a number of very, very large gifts. You’ve got to have gifts of $5 million to $25 million to close that gap up. But I like saying my favorite gifts are jars of pennies and nickels from Cub Scout troops. At that level, the entire community has equity in it. But right now, we’re focused on very large investments.
Q: How has your team recovered from the Recession?
A: I had to get everybody back in gear. I’ve got a board of people, many of whom have been on this board for a dozen years, and they went through a very dispiriting period of time during the Recession. Getting excited and ginned up and ready to go, I think we really hit that point about 16 months ago.
Q: Have plans for Tateuchi changed as Bellevue has evolved over the last decade?
A: The center is a 2,000-seat concert hall, but it has another 250-seat venue that was originally designed as a cabaret space. We did that back in 2008 because there was no nightlife in Bellevue. There were 20-, 30-, 40-year-old professionals, tech workers downtown, and the streets were dead. You could go out at night and shoot a cannon down Bellevue Way and not hit anything. Now, the average age of people living in downtown Bellevue has gone down by 10 years, and they’re being well served by a jazz club, a comedy club, all kinds of bars and nightlife. It occurred to us that the cabaret is not additive any more; it’s competitive. So the more we thought about it, the more we thought we needed a foothold for small arts organizations on the Eastside. The small organizations can’t afford a 2,000-seat hall, but they can fill a 250-seat theater. So we stripped the cabaret out, and using the same space, we’re in the process of redesigning it as a studio theater and an arts education space.
Q: What will the Tateuchi Center mean for the Eastside?
A: The difference between a good city and a great city is cultural life. You can have clean streets and good schools and good shopping, and it’d be a good place. You add a really vibrant cultural life to it, and then you have a great city. We’re not aiming at a building — that’s just the tool. We’re aiming at a great community. The case for this project has just gotten better and better every year. Good things are sometimes hard to do and take a long time. That doesn’t mean the thing itself is less valuable; that just means it’s hard work to do it. And then later on, people say, hallelujah, I knew all along it was a great idea.