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Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams to Retire After 40-Year Career in City Government

Interim director to serve while search committee of community leaders and Seattle Center stakeholders seeks new director

SEATTLE (December 21, 2022) – The City of Seattle is launching a search for the next Seattle Center Director to succeed Robert Nellams, who is retiring in February 2023 after 40 years of service to the people of Seattle.

“Robert Nellams’ decades of devoted public service to the people of our city should be celebrated and commended,” said Mayor Harrell. “Under his leadership, Seattle Center has become a welcoming, inclusive, and vibrant place – making our One Seattle ideals accessible to our entire region through the successful opening of Climate Pledge Arena, countless cultural and artistic events, and partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits, and community groups built on trust. Robert’s commitment to innovation at the historic Seattle Center – and his love for the people who work there – is unmatched. Robert’s work was always outstanding, always high quality. He will be missed.”

“It has been the joy of my professional life to work for a place that strives to honor and welcome every guest, give them a sense of belonging, fulfill their passions, and bring hundreds of partners together as One Seattle,” said Director Robert Nellams. “For me, the best part has been working with such an incredible group of co-workers, partners, and resident organizations who make Seattle Center special, vibrant, and clearly the heart of our city. I want to thank Mayor Harrell for asking me to stay on to see firsthand a rebirth of our city over the last year. Special thanks to all the mayors, councilmembers, and city staff I have had the pleasure of working with over my 40 years serving the community. Thank you.”

Marshall Foster, the Director of the Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects, will serve as interim director of Seattle Center while the search for a permanent director is underway.

“I am confident that Marshall Foster will provide excellent leadership while the search committee works to identify strong permanent candidates for the position. Marshall’s work in developing the new central waterfront park and the new Climate Pledge Arena, along with his work on many other civic projects has helped to revitalize neighborhoods, create more public open space, and make our sidewalks more pedestrian friendly. His proven experience will be a tremendous asset as we envision Seattle Center’s next chapter,” Mayor Harrell said.

Robert Nellams has directed Seattle Center since his mayoral appointment in 2006. He is the longest-serving department head in the City of Seattle. Nellams began his 40-year career with City government as an accountant in the Department of Administrative Services before moving to Seattle Center as Director of Patron Services in 1996 and Deputy Director in 1998.

During his time as Director, Nellams has revitalized and redeveloped Seattle Center, welcoming many organizations that contribute to the livability and economy of the region through the performing arts, family activities, free public programming, and professional and collegiate sports. His Seattle Center legacy welcomed lasting partnerships with the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, Chihuly Garden & Glass, Seattle International Film Festival, radio station KEXP, Cornish College of the Arts, Opera Center, and PrideFest onto the grounds, as well as negotiating the redevelopment of KeyArena to Climate Pledge Arena.

Nellams was integral in securing new producing partners for the upcoming return of the Bumbershoot Arts & Music Festival and has led efforts to bring Seattle/King County Clinic to Seattle Center. In its first five years, the four-day dental, vision, and medical clinic served 19,950 patients with a broad range of free healthcare services. Nellams is a member of the Board of Directors for the Northwest African American Museum and was recently elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Central Washington University. His retirement from the City is effective February 15, 2023.

An eight-member committee of local arts, business, and philanthropic leaders will search for the next permanent Seattle Center Director. The members of the search committee are Maria Barrientos, Mark Dederer, Michael Greer, Jeffrey Herrmann, Joy Shigaki, Ellen Walker, Mary Wideman-Williams, and Sung Yang. Read more about the search committee here.

“Seattle Center is an incredible place – a one-of-a-kind community that brings so much culture and vitality to our City,” said Marshall Foster. “One high point in my career at the City has been working with Robert Nellams, learning from him, and getting to know the remarkable staff team and the resident organizations at Seattle Center. I am honored to help support that community during this transition.”

Marshall Foster has been the Director of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront and Civic Projects (OWCP) since 2014. He has overseen the creation of 20 acres of new parks and public spaces as part of the City’s Waterfront Seattle Program. Foster has also served as the City’s Designated Representative to Sound Transit 3. Prior to these roles, he served as Seattle’s Planning Director, where he oversaw plans for South Lake Union’s expansion, along with community plans for the Rainier Valley, Capitol Hill, the University District, and Northgate.

The mayor has appointed Angela Brady, current OWCP Director of Waterfront Programs, to serve as the Acting Director of the Office. Brady has been central to the City’s Waterfront Seattle Program since joining the team in 2012, and has successfully led the OWCP design, permitting, and construction teams for many years. Before her work on Seattle’s Waterfront, she led SDOT’s Mercer Corridor Program, which significantly improved multi-modal mobility in Seattle’s South Lake Union area and played a pivotal role in its transformation from a low-density industrial zone to a high-density mix of residential, commercial and business use.

Elliot Helmbrecht, currently a Transportation Policy and Operations Advisor in the Mayor’s Office, will replace Foster as the City’s Designated Representative to Sound Transit 3. Helmbrecht has been staffing Mayor Harrell in his role as a Sound Transit Board member and has worked on major citywide transportation efforts, including the Levy to Move Seattle, the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and policies to advance Vision Zero priorities.

About Seattle Center
Connect to the extraordinary at Seattle Center, an active civic, arts, and family gathering place in the core of our city and region. As part of the Uptown Arts & Cultural District, Seattle Center’s 74-acre campus, centered around the International Fountain, is home to Climate Pledge Arena; more than 30 cultural, educational, sports and entertainment organizations; and a broad range of public and community programs – with the purpose of creating exceptional events, experiences, and environments which delight and inspire the human spirit to build stronger communities. Seattle Center is the #1 arts and entertainment destination in the Pacific Northwest with 12 million annual visitors, generating $1.864 billion in business activity and more than $631 million in labor income annually.


Jamie Housen, jamie.housen@seattle.gov

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