City hopes to give historic Seattle landmark new purpose

    Seattle's Georgetown Steam Plant shut down its turbines last century, but continues to draw visitors. The city is now looking for help to care for the historic landmark. (Photo: KOMO News) 

    SEATTLE - A former South Seattle steam plant that went out of commission in the 1970s could have a new future.

    The Georgetown Steam Plant, located just off of Boeing Field, could soon be operated by a non-profit group.

    Julianna Ross, a senior community program developer for Seattle City Light, said on Tuesday the city began accepting applications for the building’s repurposing.

    “We’re determined to maintain ownership of the building; we’re seeking a new operating partner,” Ross said.

    During its peak, some 30 workers operated the plant that supplied power to streetcar and railway lines. Even now, the plant’s twin Curtis turbines still fill the center of the building.

    The building, which has been listed as a National Historic Landmark, is eerily quiet most days – except for the roar of aircraft landing and taking off.

    The city has owned the building since the 1950s and since 2014 they’ve opened it up to tours once a month, Ross said.

    “People just know it’s really special to have a building like this,” said Ross, who regularly leads tours of the steam plant.

    Sketch artists and musicians, photographers and galas – they’ve all spent time inside the hulking building since the turbines were shut off for good, according to City Light.

    “Seeing people come in here really keeps it alive today,” said Michael Aronowitz, a senior environmental analyst for City Light.

    Ross and Aronowitz spend much of their time learning what they can about the building that was built between 1906 and 1907, then on the banks of the Duwamish River. Nearly all of the equipment used to power Seattle’s street car line still remain in good condition inside the building.

    “It’s just amazing that it’s still here,” Ross said. “It’s so rare in a growing city like Seattle that people get to come and poke around in a building that is so well intact and preserved.”

    Ross said the city wants to enter a long-term lease with a non-profit organization. A museum, a cultural center, a school or an events space could set up around the relic steam equipment, according to the city.

    Ross said the City of Seattle will pay for maintenance and the tenant will pay for some improvements, like restrooms and other amenities.

    “We’re looking for a team that has some care and experience in historic preservation and we’d like to see some financial management chops,” she said.

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