seattle center neighborhood
6:01 am
Fri June 3, 2011

Gates' "conspicuous" new building

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is trying to make its work more conspicuous.  That’s one explanation the billionaire couple gave for its new campus during a grand-opening event Thursday night.

About a thousand people packed into the campus' new grand atrium, which has a wall of glass four stories tall. 

Bill Gates spoke briefly, thanking his parents for setting an example of civic volunteerism. He quickly turned the microphone to his wife, saying, "The person who really had responsibility was Melinda, and let me thank her as I invite her to the stage."

Melinda Gates explained how the charitable foundation outgrew its anonymous office space in Seattle.  The foundation has tripled its staff in recent years and increased its giving. The main focus is fighting diseases and poverty in poor countries. Millions more are given to reforming public schools, improving libraries, and various northwest charities.  The staff that  figures out who gets all that money has been spread across five different locations. Melinda says it was time to move. But where?

"We really wanted a place that was grounded here in the northwest. As a team we looked at a whole host of sites -- Seattle has incredible sites, up on hills, and down by the Sound. And here by the Space Needle. And we ended up picking here because we wanted to be part of fabric of the city, and we wanted to make a statement."

She called the Seattle area their home and their roots and the place they pine for when they travel the globe.

The fancy, ultra-modern campus across the street from Seattle Center (with a price tag of about $500 million) was paid for mostly with an additional mega-check written by the Gates couple.

Next winter, they’ll open a public museum to help explain their main projects.