Gates throws joyous party to open Foundation campus

Puget Sound Business Journal – by Patti Payne

The opening reception for the new campus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the evening of June 2 was an occasion of pure joy. In the parking garage, even the attendants were jazzed at the huge numbers of business, civic and community leaders — about 1,000 of them, streaming toward the campus buildings that look like outstretched arms.

“Bill Gates is in there,” said one, proudly pointing the way. “He made this!”

You could feel the joy in the crowd as they entered, and then as they pooled in groups buzzing about the event, oohing over the art and architecture of the campus near the Seattle Center.

“Did you see the living roof?” asked one guest of another. “I did see the green roof,” affirmed Constance Rice, referring to the almost 1.5 acres of planted rooftop area on some of the buildings, which are covered with succulents that soak up the water and limit runoff, as well as insulate and add habitat for birds.

There was digital art to see, and a poetry wall on the Fifth Avenue side, perfect to perch on, covered with stanzas from around the world. People walked through an airy atrium to an open hall for a brief program at 7 p.m. Many commented on the reflection of the Space Needle in the glass panels of the building.

Before long, with people sipping wine, nibbling appetizers, peering over balconies, lining stairways and covering every inch of the hall, the Total Experience Gospel Choir, under pastor Pat Wright, took the stage and had the place hopping. People clapped, swayed and sang with the music. Bill and Melinda Gates watched quietly from near the stage, smiling.

Among the guests were Carole and Buster Brown, Bob and Anne Farrell, Ray Heacox and Cynthia Huffman, Irwin and Betty Lou Treiger, Frank Blethen, Jan Drago, Wes Uhlman, Barry Mitzman, Stan Barer, Anne Levinson, John Fluke. Jon and Bobbe Bridge, Jean Enersen, Robin Pollard, Susan Hutchison, Scott Oki, Jack Faris, Greg and Sharon Nickels, Dan and Nancy Evans, JJ McKay, Lee Keller and about 950 more.

With the group roaring its approval at the rhythmic opener, Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes bounded to the stage and introduced Cecile Hansen, chair of the Duwamish Tribe, who gave a blessing to the buildings and to the work of the foundation and to “this place where we gathered years ago …”

Raikes told the group how, for many years, the staff people were scattered in five different buildings. Now that they are all in one place, “It is already changing how we work together. We are collaborating more effectively, and it’s fun to see all the connections that occur as we work together in this beautiful environment.”

He gave a special shout-out of gratitude to his predecessor, Patty Stonesifer, who, as it turns out, could not be at the event as she was in Washington, D.C., chairing a meeting of the Obama-appointed White House Council for Community Solutions, along with two other Seattleites, Norm Rice and Paula Boggs.

Next Bill Gates took the stage. You could have heard a pin drop. He stood there, comfortable in gray sweater and rumpled khakis, and spoke about the origins of his philanthropy. “It goes back to my childhood … the example my dad and mom set,” he said. He spoke about the humble beginnings of the foundation, with his father looking at various projects, one by one, and talked about how they decided to put computers in libraries as one of its first projects, and about the foundation’s growth over the years to the global reach it has today.

“And still Dad comes in every day,” he said softly. “At age 87. He was looking forward to this building, he is thrilled to be in this building,” he told the guests, and explained why his father was absent. “He’s off in Cambridge, England (with the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program).”

In introducing his wife, Melinda, Gates said, ‘I get no credit for this (new location and buildings) at all … except in one small way. As the budget changed,” he said with a wry smile, “I accommodated that change. And so as I looked at that, I thought, oh, it must be a pretty nice place.”

That casual comment, delivered in true Gates fashion, got a big collective chuckle. “And,” he added, “it’s actually a spectacular investment.”

Melinda Gates took to the stage, delivering her remarks at a faster pace than her husband, and confident, gracious and at ease. “This is our home and our roots,” she said. “We’re here a lot. And we also have a huge global reach and wanted the buildings to reflect that.” She gave kudos to many, as did Raikes, including architects NBBJ, Sellen Construction, landscape architect Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. She spoke of the visitor center that will open later this year, saying she hopes that people will come and understand the mission of elevating lives through alleviating hunger and improved health care and education. “We hope (visitors) will be inspired. We plan to be here for a very long time to carry out this mission,” she said.

It seems like the perfect space to inspire those who see this new gem in Seattle. It’s a complex structure with gorgeous open spaces and towering ceilings, designed to help evoke collaboration and conversation and thought.

Said one guest, looking outside at the blue sky, “Bill and Melinda are powerful people. I know they do so much good in this world. But they also made the sun come out as well. Now that’s power.”

Late in the evening, after all the guests had gone, I spoke with Martha Choe, chief administrative officer for the foundation, who had just been in her new offices for a few days and was in the thick of this event from start to finish. (The 1,200 employees on campus began the move into their new facility on May 8.)

Exhausted but thrilled with the turnout, she said, “It was so exciting to see the civic leadership of Seattle come to celebrate a wonderful new presence in the heart of the city.” She expressed the hope that people will be drawn to the place as they were for this event, and inspired by it. “We are part of the fabric of the city now,” she said.

It will be interesting to track the new global initiatives, ideas and solutions coming from this impressive new venue.

Comments are closed.