Former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, whose single term in office was marked by crises from the WTO riots to Boeing’s corporate departure, but whose imprint as an enthusiastic city-builder still can be seen in libraries, parks, community centers and public art, has died. He was 76.
Schell also made his mark in Tacoma. He was president of Weyerhaeuser-backed Cornerstone Development Co., which in the mid 1980s developed the Tacoma Center project around South 13th Street and Broadway in downtown. It included the building holding the first downtown YMCA, the Tacoma Financial Center and the former Sheraton Tacoma Hotel, which is now Hotel Murano.
Cornerstone also renovated the historic building at 1148 Broadway, which was built in 1892 and occupied by Sears, Roebuck and Co. until it moved to the Tacoma Mall. Schell’s company fixed it up and renamed it the Cornerstone Building.
Schell, who served as Seattle’s 50th mayor from 1998 to 2002, died Sunday at Swedish Medical Center, where he had undergone heart bypass surgery last week.
Civic leaders praised him as a visionary whose impact on Seattle spanned decades before he was elected mayor.
“As a citizen activist, lawyer, director of community development, port commissioner, dean of architecture and mayor he directly shaped the civic infrastructure of Seattle for more than 40 years,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a news release.
Schell led a successful $196 million Libraries for All bond campaign that funded a new downtown library and rebuilt many neighborhood branch libraries. He championed a $198 million levy for parks and the zoo, and a $72 million effort that mingled public and private dollars to renovate the opera house at Seattle Center and community centers.
“He had a vision for the city that got articulated in bricks and mortar,” friend and former Mayor Charles Royer said. “I think if it were not for a couple of those bumps, he would have been regarded as much more effective than he was given credit for. And he is, in my book, one of the most productive mayors we’ve ever had.”
But Schell’s administration was undone by a cavalcade of bad news.
The 1999 ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which he had promoted as a boon for the city, turned into a fiasco of tear gas, property damage and mass arrests. He took heat from business owners angry that the city lost control of downtown. He also was lambasted by protesters and others swept up in the aggressive police response.
Two years later, during Mardi Gras, a young man was beaten to death in Pioneer Square while police remained on the sidelines of the unruly crowds.
Schell also faced controversial police shootings and Boeing’s announcement that its corporate headquarters would move to Chicago.
If the city took a bruising, so did Schell. During the summer of 2001, he was hit in the face by a megaphone-wielding assailant while attending a Central District community event. The incident broke bones around Schell’s eye and left streaks in his vision.
“I feel like we did eight years in four,” he once said of his tumultuous term.
By the time Schell sought re-election in 2001, voters were fed up. He became the first Seattle mayor in 65 years to be ousted in a primary.
Schell is survived by Pam, his wife of 51 years, and his daughter, Jamie.