25 Years Later: Veteran Idealist Frank Ruano Speaks Out about the Kingdome

  • By Heather MacIntosh
  • Posted 3/01/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2184

This is an interview of Frank Ruano (1920-2005), an outspoken critic of Seattle's Kingdome stadium, which opened on March 27, 1976, and was imploded on March 26, 2000.  The interview was conducted in Seattle by HistoryLink's Heather MacIntosh in March 2000.

Background

Before Frank Ruano (1920-2005) came to Seattle and became one of the city's most outspoken citizens, he lived in New York where he worked for American Express. When asked if he would relocate to another U.S. city, he consulted his girlfriend Sophie first. She didn't want to live in a cold place. Frank eventually agreed to Seattle, despite its rainy reputation. Frank and Sophie departed together after she agreed to marry him (after a little bit of arbitration) on Labor Day, 1949. "I didn't know a single soul," Frank recalls. Some Seattle and King County politicians no doubt wished he'd stayed in New York.

Frank Ruano still has much to say about the controversy surrounding the Kingdome both before and after its construction. He was instrumental in slowing the building's siting and construction. Before his involvement in the Kingdome siting and budgetary debates, Ruano provided real estate estimates for developers, and cultivated a keen eye for development opportunities.

In the Beginning

"I'm looking at the railroad site (King Street) and said, "That's the place to put the stadium." So a couple of days later I got reports from the power company and started to get various dimensions, and learned that the stadium would fit there. Then I started to work with insurance companies to see if I could get money. Now, the government leases office space, and many United States Post Offices are owned by individuals. The county signs a lease, you see, and under that arrangement there would be no public involvement. If they rent office space up the street they don't go the voters to ask permission to rent. It's included in the bylaws of the constitution that they can rent.

"I went to visit the various railroad vice presidents and managers, Milwaukee [the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad], the ones who were important to see if I could get air rights. Would they grant air rights over the railroad tracks? I agreed to do this. During that process I was keeping most of the sportswriters informed as to what I was doing providing that they didn't speak about it. I didn't want anything to go on the record.

"I'd pretty well got the package pretty well put together, and I got a call from Rob Belcher. Rob Belcher used to be a sportswriter. He said that Governor Evans and Jim Gandy were going to have a press conference and that they were going to select the railroad site. I called Hy Zimmerman from The Seattle Times, and I said, 'why don't you have a press conference?'

"They were going to have theirs in the afternoon so we had ours in the morning. The Times used to have a Bulldog edition that was out at 11 o'clock. So at 11 o'clock, front page, top headline it read 'stadium proposal for funding improvement,' all of this. Well Gandy and the Governor didn't hold their press conference. Now all of this is to bring you up to the point where I got involved with the stadium.

"But there was some more conversation that went on when the state legislature approved the funding for the stadium, King County was selected, and ... but then the approval ... they wanted to have a site selection committee, two from the state, two from the city of Seattle and two from King County. They had various requirements that they put forth. So that committee was formed and they in turn hired a consulting firm out of San Diego. And the consultants after reviewing all this came back with five sites, they had southpark, riverton, North up in Bellevue, Seattle Center, and the International District.

Angry Bees

"Well the downtown establishment just blew up. They refused to accept that recommendation, so then late mayor Dorm Braman set up a committee. It was supposed to be a committee of 40, but they ended up with 20, and the chairman of that committee was Ed Carlson. He was then the big wig for the Westin Hotel and also the chairman for United Airlines. All those bigwigs from downtown got together and decided they were going to keep the civic center, so a fellow, an attorney by the name of Dan Brick came into the picture.

"At the same time when this was happening we received our [King County] home rule charter. This is authorized by the legislature and it gave us the right of initiative and referendum. And Dan Brick said, now that the charter was only two weeks old, we can file an initiative to object to the Seattle Civic Center site. So Dan drafted up the papers, and we gathered up signatures on petitions to reject the Seattle Civic Center site. We were more hostile than a group of bees to remove the stadium from being placed at the Seattle Center.

"The time it would take to get the amount of signatures we needed, and time alloted to get the thing accepted was not yet announced, so we were in the dark getting signatures. We came up with about 40,000 if not more and we did it in a matter of a few weeks. It turns out that we got more than twice the number of signatures [required].

Challenging Opinions

"Then it was challenged by a man by the name of [Al Schweppe] who was an attorney who said the initiative was not legal. So we ended up in King County court, and the local judge said A. S. was right. You don't have the right to do the initiative, so we had agreed that if we had lost we would go to the Supreme Court. So we did, we went to the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court was going on a spring vacation. when they came back they invited us to be there at 9 in the morning. The Supreme Court submitted an opinion within hours. They usually take weeks, months, a year. We had our opinion within a matter of hours.

"Somehow The Times, the printed media, the electronic media, they came to the spokesmen of our group, people who were involved besides myself, including a man by the name of Tony Ferrucci, and Dick Young. Dick Young was very shy about talking to the press, and Tony Ferrucci wouldn't answer. And they gave me a hearing. And by the time they got to they point they had started to have an election. This was for the Forward Thrust package.

"The stadium was put into the 13 issues of Forward Thrust, put together by a fellow by the name of Jim Ellis. I had a number of conversations. I didn't suspect it was right for the public to put up $40 million dollars for a stadium, site unseen. Its different to put up x number of dollars to improve the sewer system. You knew what you were going to get. It was okay to ask for money to improve the parks, but to ask for $40 million dollars to build a stadium? But we didn't know which one they were talking about, and we didn't know how they were going to pay for it all.

We, the Misrepresented and Misinformed...

"So we got into some arguments, around the clock. Robert Mack at KING, he called me on a Friday, and I wasn't too pleasant about it, but I agreed to it. He called me a few minutes later and said 'Would you get together some of your newspaper clippings.' Reading all these articles, and all these lawsuits, all the printed material in the P-I and The Times, when I read them now, they're about as filthy as they can be.

"They were putting me in the position of being against the stadium. I've never been against the stadium! I voted for the stadium! It's not just a coverup.

"We have a criminal element in public office, they will steal, they will lie, they do whatever they want to do to achieve their end. I'll give you an example from the Seattle City Council. When the railroad site was finally selected, there was an environmental impact required. Within the code, the building code for the City of Seattle, they had so many parking stalls for x, y, z buildings. In the case of the stadium, they were very, very short. So the last hangup was how to resolve this parking problem.

"They even went so far as to say 'Well, can we count the cars from the stadium to the Bon Marche?' They were going to count the parking stalls between the stadium and the Bon Marche, but they never at any time contended that those parking spaces would be available. How are you going to be sure all those parking spots are going to be available? Then the City of Seattle came up with a suggestion that they would build a garage, without having to go to the public. They could do this with councilmanic bonds. These were no obligation bonds ... used primarily in the case of an emergency or something the government thinks is very essential. These bonds can be for quite a bit of money, and they don't have to go to the public vote.

"So Seattle City Council prepared a councilmanic bond for 8 million dollars while they took this stadium issue to referendum. They said, "here it is" here's your parking problem. At that point, then, the Environmental Impact Report was complete. But now ... Where's the garage? Where is it? They never built it. They never intended to build it! It was a separate item unto itself. They never built the garage. It hasn't been built, it's been terribly ignored. But yet under falsehood, they convinced we the public, 'Yeah, we'll build it for you, therefore we meet the requirements of the environmental impact report ...'

Speaking of Impact Statements...

"The Asians [neighbors living in the International District] said 'We're going to put a curse on this building,' While they were putting up the columns, three of them fell down and I made the remark, Looks like the Asian Curse has taken over. Then they chastised me for discriminating against the Asians. I never said a darn thing about it. I've been discriminated against. At that time they knew that Ruano was a Spanish name, and said to me 'With a name like Ruano..' You know. The Asian Hoax may have worked, that was it, that was all I meant. I don't know, they just did some ceremonial deal, I don't know what they did..."

Primary Objections Linger

Frank Ruano's primary objections were not against the stadium's construction, but in the way construction was administered and funded by public monies generated by the $40 million allocated through the Forward Thrust package. He remembers many of the budgetary problems surrounding the Kingdome controversy, including support for the elections, which came from the original $40 million set aside for stadium capital.

"During the second Forward Thrust election, the time we went in there to vote on the Seattle Center site, that site was voted down at a two to one ratio. The people who work at these elections have to be paid. So they took money from the stadium fund to pay for this. $158,000. I took them to task. I contacted The Seattle Times. I watched the reporter teletype the story over to The Times. And what he wrote and what appeared in the papers were completely foreign. But they stole, at the time, $158,000 from the stadium fund to pay for three issues that failed.

Last Words about the Kingdome and Frank Ruano

"I was surprised that we the people would take it down. [The kingdome is to be imploded on March 26, 2000.] I thought it would come down on its own accord -- such as when the tiles came down off the roof. I remarked that shoddy construction took place. I thought the ladies restroom would be a real sore point.

"I feel like I'm losing a relative. A close relative. It was a part of me. The one thing about the whole deal is that I'm not going to have to put up with it much longer. I've been operated on 15 times. I've had open-heart surgery, five bypasses, so I'm not going to have to put up with what's going to happen. I've had four of my initiatives pass -- more than most elected officials."

Charged with being a Don Quixote, Frank stands firm in his convictions, living in the sturdy house he constructed with his own hands decades ago. As we close our interview, Frank points to his personal credo, which he has woven into a carpet tapestry now draped over a couch in his living room. The terse motto will be his epitaph, he says. It reads: "Vision to See, Faith to Believe, Courage to Do." Indeed.


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