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PNB Bellevue school in Sound Transit path

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet School professional division student Chelsea Adomaitis (now a PNB corps de ballet dancer) rehearsing at PNB School’s Francia Russell Center - Rex Tranter
Former Pacific Northwest Ballet School professional division student Chelsea Adomaitis (now a PNB corps de ballet dancer) rehearsing at PNB School’s Francia Russell Center
— image credit: Rex Tranter

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) Francia Russell Center in the Bel-Red area faces potential relocation due to Sound Transit’s East Link alignment along 136th Place Northeast and Northeast 16th Street. D. David Brown, Executive Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet said the issue was first brought to his attention about six weeks ago, when Sound Transit announced design adjustments.

The line, which is supposed to round the corner just east of the academy, could be altered to account for a 20 mph curve or a 30 mph curve. Early designs indicate that the latter of the two would demand full demolition of the center, though that’s preferred by PNB over the 20 mph option, which would displace part of the academy’s parking and require a modification to its entrance.

“The ballet, we think, is important to the cultural life of Bellevue,” said Brown. “We enjoy being there. It’s a good thing for the ballet to have a connection with the Eastside. Forty percent of our subscribers live there and over half of our trustees of the ballet live on the Eastside as well.”

Brown said that Sound Transit, Pacific Northwest Ballet and the property owner were in talks. One option would shift the center to an adjacent property on the same lot, though more than $5 million in renovations would be needed, an alternative, says Brown, that while outside PNB’s budget, is preferred at this point.

“We’re not in a position to help with relocation costs,” said Brown. “We don’t have those funds. We fundraised for the space, just ten years ago. It would be difficult for us to go back and ask [those donors] again to support what they’ve already supported, or to put off other projects that the ballet has planned.”

PNB has been in Bellevue since 1986, when it first opened an academy near Coca Cola’s distribution plant. Ninety students enrolled in that inaugural class. PNB soon outgrew the space and launched a campaign to raise funds for its move and expansion. After locating and renovating an old Gold’s Gym that had gone out of business, the Francia Russell Center opened in fall of 2002. About 1,000 students now use the center.

“The school is obviously...a huge cultural asset to the city,” said Kevin Wallace, who first brought the issue to the attention of staff and fellow councilmembers during an arts commission briefing Monday, Jul. 1. “The Eastside is still so much younger than Seattle with respect to the arts, and so we have far fewer institutions like this. Losing even one would be a big loss for the overall culture and vibrancy of Bellevue.”

Brown said that while PNB supports transit on the Eastside, he doesn’t view East Link as an immediate asset to the ballet, in large part because of the demographic of students. The academy caters to a younger crowd with class titles ranging from “PNB Tots” to Mommy and Me workshops.

Concerns about noise mitigation along the alignment have been raised throughout East Link discussions. Softening the curve along 136th Place and Northeast 16th Street would allow the train to round the corner more quickly and likely more quietly, say staff. Sound Transit also expects the 30 mph curve would require less maintenance.

“The lion’s share of attention for this project has been on segments B and C, which is the neighborhood segment and the downtown segment…There really hasn’t been as much attention paid out here, in Bel-Red” said Wallace. “But we’ve had success in working with Sound Transit and its board members in getting them to recognize important issues like this. I’m hopeful we can continue a good relationship.”

Geoff Patrick, spokesperson for Sound Transit, said talks were still underway, adding that the agency is responsible not just for ensuring fair market value, but in funding the relocation of tenants. Brown says he expects to know within a month, whether ST will be able to help with relocation costs, or if the ballet will have to start looking for alternatives.

“Bellevue is an important community for us,” said Brown. “We’re happy to be there and we’d like to continue to.”

 

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