These days Bill Gates and Paul Allen are shaping the landscape of Seattle as much as they've shaped its economy.
With construction noise almost drowning out his words, Bill Gates Sr. spoke at a groundbreaking Thursday for part of the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters, a 12-acre site being built directly across the street from Paul Allen's Experience Music Project.
Gates remembered taking his children to the Space Needle for the World's Fair in 1962, calling the area "the heart of the city."
Now three eras converge: the Space Needle of the Boeing-led jet city forming a backdrop behind the glass and steel music museum built with software millions, to the global health and philanthropy powerhouse emerging from the parking lot.
"This spot has been a parking lot as long as I can remember," Mayor Greg Nickels remarked. Now it's being put to "a much higher and better use."
Gates Foundation employees, architects, city officials and others looked down at the site from the Space Needle and celebrated the groundbreaking with glasses of champagne.
Yet all the new development could exacerbate city traffic congestion. So far the Gates Foundation is kicking in onlyabout $1.68 million for traffic improvements.
Nickels said he wants to open up more two-way traffic and streets now cut off by Aurora Avenue. He also envisioned the streetcar set to run from Allen's South Lake Union biotech corridor past the Gates Foundation headquarters and EMP to eventually stretch down to the waterfront.
Spurred on by the big ambitions of Gates and Allen, Nickels can only hope plans to transform the Seattle Center area ultimately fare better than the tunnel option.