Mario ‘the visionary’ leaves his legacy

Local businessman, real estate developer who gave generously to the community dies at 85

Mario Segale

Mario Segale

With one bulldozer and unshakable determination, Mario Segale launched a construction company just after he graduated from high school in 1952.

The M.A. Segale construction company went on to mine gravel, make asphalt, repave airport runways and grade freeway rights of way.

Over time, Segale acquired extensive real estate holdings throughout South King County, including warehouses, a shopping center, gravel pits and timberland and the 500 acres in Tukwila that set the stage for Tukwila South.

As Tukwila businessman Ken Behrens told the Seattle Times in 2009: “Segale is the big elephant in the room in Tukwila. Whatever he wants to get done, he usually gets done.”

Also among the family’s holdings was the land under Emerald Downs Racetrack & Casino, which several years after opening day in 1996, Segale sold to the Muckleshoot Tribe for $73.6 million.

Segale, 85, died Saturday morning, Oct. 27 surrounded by family. The cause of death was undisclosed.

Friends recalled a tough businessman who avoided the spotlight and shunned the press for decades. Perhaps above all, they remember a man who believed intensely in family and friends and maintained a small, tightly-knit circle of both.

Former Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, who met Segale 30 years ago when Lewis was a banker relatively new to town, remembered his friend as a hard-nosed businessman with a patient, long-range vision for what he wanted to do.

“Mario was a very visionary person,” ” Lewis said. “He built up a lot of things that happened, not just in South King County but especially around here. Emerald Downs was one of those things where he was literally the foundation. He owned the land and was strongly committed to ensuring that took place.”

Segale, Lewis continued, was intensively private and generous, one of those people who would make a donation for someone or something really in need, as long as it wasn’t talked about.

“He never wanted to have the spotlight, and I always understood that. He was always extremely kind to so many people,” Lewis said, adding that when Segale asked how your family was doing, he really cared and wanted to know. … “If you were in that group that he talked to, he was the nicest individual you would ever want to meet.

“When I was mayor, he never asked me for anything, but he was always asking about family. When (Lewis’ wife) got sick, he would take her flowers. It was always very evident that he truly cared,” Lewis said. “He and his family have always had a special place in our lives.”

Unexpected fame attached itself to Segale when Nintendo named its video-game character for him. The story goes that Segale, who rented a warehouse to the company in the early 1980s, burst into the company’s office one day, demanding overdue rent.

Segale and his family were major political donors, indeed, at times the Democratic Party’s most generous contributors. Today the family remains a notable presence in Tukwila, where its offices are.

Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus remembered Segale as a man who grew up in an era when deals were settled with a handshake, and a man’s word was his bond.

“One day we were talking about the government process, and he said, ‘I guess I never think about that because we’re a family; we decide what we are going to do and we move forward,’ ” Backus said.

“… He challenged you. He wanted to know that the person he was dealing with knew what they were talking about. He was proud of his land dealings. He was really a pleasure to work with,” Backus said.

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