The Vera Project Speaks Out About Climate Pledge Arena Construction


Tough times for Vera Project. Courtesy of Vera Project

110-degree steam leaks. Repeated confrontations with maskless construction workers. Inaccessible entrances. Loud, building-shaking vibrations and noises.

For the past two years, Seattle’s beloved all-ages venue and non-profit The Vera Project has dealt with these and other construction-related problems thanks to the nearby renovation of the Climate Pledge Arena, carried out by the Los Angeles-based construction company Oak View Group. As the Foo Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie are set to open the arena next Tuesday, leadership at Vera, which occupies the Northwest Courtyard of the Seattle Center, is pushing for financial compensation for their arts organization.

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Over the phone, Vera executive director Ricky Graboski said when construction on Climate Pledge Arena (CPA) began back in 2019 the disruption was “pretty significant” and “irritating,” but didn’t prevent them from carrying out any programming or scheduled shows. At the time, the venue, he said, was wary of creating any big corporate enemies.

Then in March 2020, the pandemic hit. Graboski observed that crews “ramped up construction” as soon as resident orgs in the courtyard shut down to the public. While Vera staff were mainly working from home last summer, construction made it difficult for them to access the space in the way they wanted. But the real issues began when staff started to go back to the office over the past year to plan programming and livestream virtual events in their space.

proposed an amendment to create a construction impact mitigation fund for tenants like Vera Project.

That amendment, however, was ultimately withdrawn by Herbold after OVG “objected to the additional financial burden it would place on them,” and the council member did not want to jeopardize the legislation’s passage, reported SCC Insight. One of the council members at that time, Rob Johnson, left his council seat early to take a full-time position as vice president of Transportation and Sustainability for NHL Seattle and CPA.

Out of all the arts organizations surrounding CPA, Vera Project is uniquely affected by the construction. Their neighbors—KEXP to the west and SIFF to the east—have largely managed to escape the most nightmarish of construction scenarios, and in emails, both acknowledged Vera’s hardship.

A SIFF representative wrote that their staff who did work in the office “were impacted by noise and obstructions, making it difficult to access the building at times,” yet they remain “optimistic about the additional foot traffic and potential exposure” the CPA will bring. Separately, a KEXP representative wrote that they have had a “productive working relationship with the Arena and with Seattle Center on construction mitigation so far.”

Another walkway obstruction.

Another walkway obstruction. Courtesy of Vera Project

Looking forward, Graboski said his organization “absolutely” wants and needs “some sort of financial mitigation” to recoup the damages construction has cost the venue. They haven’t specified an exact amount.

But more broadly, he thinks the clash is indicative of a “massive cultural shift” that’s happening on the Seattle Center campus. The refurbishment of the arena is bringing in attention and big corporations like Amazon and venue partner Live Nation, and a new sports team. Graboski worries that people have lost the plot and forgotten what makes our city special.

“Seattle as a whole—city officials and the general media of the city—loves to pride themselves on Seattle being such an incredible music city. But they also seem to forget where music comes from,” he said. “It’s not from Live Nation—it’s from small community-based music venues, art spaces, warehouses, DIY spaces.”

Construction around Climate Pledge Arena isn’t the only threat to Vera and surrounding arts organizations. As Graboski told Michael Rietmulder at the Seattle Times, plans for a proposed Sound Transit 3 underground stop underneath their building has “a significant potential to permanently displace us.” Rietmulder noted that a new round of ST3 mitigation talks has started.

With CPA and ST3, Vera said they plan to continue to advocate for themselves so they can preserve the arts ecosystem of Seattle Center. The first phase of arena construction finishes this month, with the second phase starting sometime in February.

“We’re going to keep trying. I’m just going to keep shouting louder and louder until I think they’ve actually heard us,” Graboski said.

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