Innovation, Community and Collaboration at Pacific Tower

October 30, 2014

Pacific Tower exteriorBig things are brewing on Beacon Hill at the Pacific Tower. You know the building -- it's the beautiful art deco tower that overlooks downtown from atop the north end of Beacon Hill. It has a long and storied history that stretches back to 1933. From 1998-2011, it served as the headquarters of Amazon.com, and with their departure to South Lake Union, the building's owner, the Pacific Hospital Public Development Authority (PHPDA), through a partnership with the state Department of Commerce (and many others!), is transforming the campus into one of the most exciting and ambitious public/private partnerships around: the Pacific Tower Community Health and Innovation Center.

On Wednesday, October 29, Philanthropy Northwest members joined representatives from many of the organizations involved in this unique partnership for a tour of the building, an inside look at its transformation and a briefing on the amazing work that is already or soon will be housed there.

As Rep. Frank Chopp, speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives -- and a key project champion -- told us, the center is anchored in two big ideas: creating a new healthcare education campus and building around it an innovation center to house organizations working not only in health care, but in all kinds of related areas. Together, these efforts will not only increase the availability of health care services to vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our community, but will also create economic opportunity for community members as well as unleashing powerful waves of collaboration as the various institutions who will make their homes at Pacific Tower forge a shared professional community of their own.

Frank Chopp
Rep. Frank Chopp explains the vision and story behind Pacific Tower Community Health and Innovation Center

Among the highlights:

  • Seattle Central College is creating a new health care campus on the site, complete with library, student services, etc. They estimate that restoring the historic Pacific Tower building will wind up costing them less than half of what building a new campus would cost, and as PHPDA Executive Director Jeff Natter reminded us, the location -- right in the heart of the city, adjacent to downtown and the medical centers of First Hill --  is priceless. The campus will occupy a bit over a third of the facility's 205,000 square feet.
     
  • Neighborcare Health will operate a 20-chair dental clinc in partnership with SCC, which Executive Director Mark Secord believes is the first such partnership between a dental training program and a community health clinic in the country. It's not always easy to mix academics and patient care, but as Secord said, "We are breaking new ground here."
     
  • Farestart is already using the former Amazon.com cafeteria as a training and production kitchen for its diverse food service and training programs. Executive Director Megan Karch told us, "Being at Pacific Tower is all about the synergy." Not only will Farestart provide all of the food service and catering for the tower and its tenants, its students will benefit from access to all of the health care services there -- dental care in particular -- and will also benefit from being part of the inspiration and opportunity of a higher education environment. As Karch said, "For us, food is merely a means to transform people's lives."

Touring the Farestart kitchen
Touring FareStart's new kitchen facilities in the former Amazon.com cafeteria
 

  • The Cross Cultural Health Care Program, which provides medical interpretation and works to build cultural competence for medical and social service providers, is already occupying new offices in the tower, and Executive Director Ira SenGupta told us that they couldn't be more excited about the opportunity to integrate deeply with both health care education and service providers.

In addition, a number of Philanthropy Northwest members and partners are in the process of moving to Pacific Tower, including Building Changes, 501 Commons, the Road Map Project and more. Their rent payments will support PHPDA's grantmaking in service of its core mission to champion effective health care for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community.

David WertheimerOne moment that stuck out for us was during a brief Q & A period at the end, led by David Wertheimer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Kathleen Pierce of The Kirkpatrick Family Foundation asked if anybody was funding a network weaver role to knit the web of connections and unlock the collaborative potential among the many individuals and organizations arriving on the campus. "I love this question!" exclaimed Wertheimer, who was delighted to share that the Gates Foundation grant to the project specifically included funding for community builder positions as one of its three key elements. "When you want cross-system innovative things to happen, you can’t depend on the existing programs and agencies and people for that to happen. You need dedicated boundary-spanners to bring those systems and organizations together," said Wertheimer.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. We're thrilled to see this rich stew of collaboration -- in which many Philanthropy Northwest members are playing critical roles -- beginning to fill the neighborhood with the fragrant aroma of a stronger, healthier, more resilient community.