Historically, architecture in Seattle has mostly consisted of putting up something big and ugly where something small and lovely once stood. Today's shiny new monument becomes tomorrow's, well, Kingdome. That's why City Librarian Deborah L. Jacobs has, during her eight-year tenure, reshaped not just the skyline of Seattle but the very way we look at downtown architecture and development. Building something grand and ambitious that takes risks and makes a statement is no longer inconceivable for publicly funded projects. Her library— designed by Rem Koolhaas in conjunction with local firm LMN Architects and which opened last year—sets a precedent in more ways than one.
The new library has had a surprising economic impact. Jacobs says a recent study indicates it's drawn tourists to Seattle who specifically "said they came to see the library." As a result, downtown visits are up 35 percent, 50 percent on weekends, and 65 percent during holiday periods and summer months. The same study estimates the new tourist attraction has contributed $16 million to the local economy. And, unlike riding the Duck or checking out EMP, "It's free," she notes.
Well, free to some, and $196.4 million to us—that's the amount Seattle voters approved for the 1998 Libraries for All bond initiative, for which Jacobs served as chief cheerleader. It paid for the Central Library and a systemwide building and renovating rampage that's still under way. (It's no surprise that Jacobs has The Power Brokers on her shelves.) Jacobs recalls, "Clearly the election happened, and the early fund-raising for private dollars, at the peak of the dot-com boom. The reason people supported the plan was that I'd been to 100 community meetings in my first two and one-half months here, and heard what people wanted." You can also see the results at new and/or renovated branches in Greenwood, Beacon Hill, the International District, Hawthorne Hills, and Ballard.
Apart from being a "passionate librarian" committed to longer branch hours (especially downtown for kids), outreach to immigrant groups, and more technology, Jacobs is a builder, committed to urbanism and revitalizing the downtown core. "We're adding to street liveliness. We're adding a very strong free cultural amenity that makes people come downtown. You couldn't get a building like this normally with public process. But . . . we just kept going, tenacious as heck, and were willing to engage the people but not dumb down the vision." So what does she say to those who think it's too hard to build in preservation-minded, process-clogged, direct-democracy Seattle? "We've done it. We talked and we built."
Here's another question: Deborah Jacobs for mayor? Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., 206- 826-4328, www.spl.org.
Deborah L. Jacobs' Picks
"I immediately moved to Capitol Hill [eight years ago]. I love, love, love Capitol Hill. I have a dog. I love walking on Capitol Hill. Today I walked to work." Yet, in the same breath she adds, "I'm moving to Queen Anne."
Best Provisioning for Dinner Parties:
The Pike Place Market. "I love the produce. My usual thing is to go to Pure Food Fish, DeLaurenti, and Socio's."
Best Restaurants for an Evening Out:
"I love to go to El Greco. Vios [Cafe & Marketplace] is so good, and the food is some of the best in town. When I have to entertain, I probably go to Place Pigalle, because it's got such nice water views." Also, Matt's in the Market for "when friends come. It's such a special place."
Best Place to Relax:
"I like my couch a lot." (It came from Dania.)
Best Dog Walking/Running Area:
Best Destinations for Out-of-Towners:
EMP or "just take the ferry over to Bainbridge. It's an inexpensive, great way to see the city in a whole different way. Then for people who are really hip enough to get it, send people to the Henry Art Gallery, [and] the Frye is a lovely, lovely addition to nice building. Go to Alki—it's so beautiful there."