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Ménage à Seattle Center: Chihuly, KEXP, some other suitors?

At a public hearing, the big themes were money for the Center's perpetually stretched budget and the potential for mixing and matching among various proposals for the Fun Forest area.
An artist's rendering of a proposed new Chihuly museum at the Seattle Center.

An artist's rendering of a proposed new Chihuly museum at the Seattle Center. Owen Richards Architects

Two themes emerged last night (July 7) during the public hearing on redeveloping Seattle Center's Fun Forest. And one leads naturally into the other.

The first is the pressure the city feels to generate revenue from whatever replaces the kiddie rides that have occupied the space for some 45 years. The Center's Request for Proposals (RFP) lists six criteria on which the ideas will be judged, and three of those mention money — capital investments and rent income, for example.

This is despite the fact that the Center's own Master Plan, developed over two years between 2006 and 2008, calls for wide-open space in the Fun Forest area. An open field wouldn't do much to help the Center's perpetual financial struggles. Many of those who commented on the proposals — nearly 80 people signed up to speak — touted the financial benefits of whatever plan they supported, giving more "air time" to that factor than any other.

The second theme to emerge was the idea of combining two or more of the nine proposals under consideration. This "mix and match" approach was mentioned by some of the project backers and by people who offered comments to the RFP Review Panel. It came up so often during the night, gaining steam along the way, that at times it felt like a fait accompli.

Proponents of park land said their plans could accommodate a new studio for nonprofit radio station KEXP; radio station executives, who've submitted a plan of their own, said they'd be willing to talk. Fans of ideas with little money behind them suggested they could be subsidized by money from a Dale Chihuly glass museum; backers of a Chihuly museum expressed openness to that idea.

"We just wanted to bring some energy back to the campus," said Ron Sevart, CEO of the Space Needle, which is working with Chihuly's staff on the museum idea. As Sevart watched a couple hundred people looking over project displays before the hearing, he touted the idea of "finding a way to fit many of these things onto the campus."

A combined approach could help resolve the conflict between the master plan and the city's need to make enough money to pay for the Center's operation. And in terms of shaping the Center's future, a brokered deal is a step forward from early this year, when Seattle Center officials were working privately with Chihuly proponents to OK a museum, without inviting or vetting any other ideas. When those plans finally became public, after months of behind-the-scenes talks, public criticism prompted the Center to step back and issue the RFP.

The RFP Review Panel now will deliberate in closed sessions before making a recommendation to Center director Robert Nellams by the end of August. Nellams will send a recommendation to Mayor Mike McGinn, who is expected to forward a plan to the City Council. Bill Block, chairman of the nine-member group, said panel members may ask project proponents to submit more information, or may meet with proponents to hone projects before issuing a recommendation.

Before it's over, they also may end up playing matchmaker.

Note: This story was edited after initial posting because it incorrectly implied that proponents of a Native American cultural center were open to collaborating with the backers of the Dale Chihuly glass museum.

Michele Matassa Flores is managing editor of Crosscut. You can reach her at mmflores@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jul 8, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

MMF- I'm reposting this after reading your today's Post on the Hearing. JG

I wonder is any other Seattle Native (or non-Native for that matter) is as over-Chihulied as I am. Fellow architect Clay Young, now gone, who with Paul Thiry and others (including myself) created and/or publicized the highly successful '62 Seattle World's Fair had a much better vision of what this most important City focus could- and should become. It's time to draw the line at a valuable public asset being commandeered in this high-handed way.

Posted Thu, Jul 8, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

God, Chihuly is so-o-o passe! Gimme a break! I oppose that project because: (1)Public land is scarce, so diverting it to private use should result in a significant public benefit. Income for Chihuly, Wright and the Center is not a significant public benefit; (2) Locking up open space for 20 years is short-sighted: it could cause serious financial problems. What if the project wasn’t successful after 15 years? Would they ask for rent relief? Who pays to refurbish the building?; (3)The entrance fee would be high (like the EMP). Can locals afford it? ; (4)If they could, how often would they visit before being bored (my experience with the EMP);(5)If locals don’t visit, who does? Tourists! That’s who the project really is aimed at. Proponents want to change public space now used by residents into private space used by tourists.

But if a glass exhibit makes any sense, why not dedicate it to ALL glass artists? Why not build, instead, a workshop where people can see ALL forms of glass art being made? Maybe a branch of Pilchuck school (their gift shop could pay rent).

Nevertheless, I think a better use would be a public gathering space where art/learning/music/speaking events take place daily, many spontaneously, something along the lines of what I think the Think-Activate-FROG proposals are.

Bobalou

Posted Thu, Jul 8, 3:28 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm confused. Aren't these famous panels of Seattle genuises meeting in the dead of night where stadiums and tunnels come from?

And when did these movers and shakers start giving a rip about the economic feasibility of anything?

jmrolls

Posted Thu, Jul 8, 5:20 p.m. Inappropriate

To start with, Jerry Gropp and “Bobalou” are so on target, I have little to add. The only real observation I have is in regards to “Bobalou” in his comment about an exhibit for all glass artists. You can’t do that because if you create art with glass Chihuly will sue you for copy write infringement. He is such a self promoter that if it is made with glass outside of his studio or approval, you must be stealing his ideas. Away with Chihuly, if you want Chihuly go to Tacoma, support their exhibit which is a substantial money loser. We don’t need two money losers within 30 miles of each other.

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 7:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Worth repeating (from just above): "if you want Chihuly go to Tacoma, support their exhibit which is a substantial money loser. We don’t need two money losers within 30 miles of each other".

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 8:01 a.m. Inappropriate

To clarify: I'm not just against the idea of a Chihuly "exhibit," but I'm also against Wright (or any other business) getting a franchise to make money using public land, and also against adding yet another building to the Center.

Bobalou

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 9:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Let's call the Chihuly museum what it really is: a display case for overpriced glass knick-knacks.

It's schlock, it's commercial, it's assembly-line art a la Thomas Kincaid. It would be truly embarrassing to have that thing at the base of Seattle's premiere landmark.

olaf

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I couldn't agree more with the two preceeding. JG

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't know, but a Chihuly glass house makes sense. Its pretty much in line with everything else. The EMP, that dumbass park on the waterfront, and the over-priced micro-parks popping up all over--two were added to West Seattle at the Morgan and West Seattle Junctions where you can enjoy the near-by idling traffic, huff exhaust and take in the million dollar landscape...er concrete and industial sod. I recall my one visit to scupture park and the growing need to smack someone as I was herded through that "open space." Someone needs to be smacked. And open space should remain open, and preferably naturally occurring.

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 1:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Countermeme- This Seattle native thinks it's time to break the pattern of waiting too long to do anything- and then doing it really, really wrong. (You give a lot of good examples above). Crosscut deserves credit for this timely alert- hopefully timely enough so people will see it and put their oar in. JG

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 1:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, regarding the sculpture park, that used to be Unocal's tank farm. Hadn't been "open" since the early 1900s. Whether or not a more traditional park would have been better than what's currently there is one thing, but either, to me, is better than more condos.

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 1:56 p.m. Inappropriate

Ben- I well remember the oil-soaked tank farm. This illustrates my point exactly. The Sculpture Park could have been a so much better urban design. I must admit using the Theory of Less Palatable Alternatives on my custom residential clients. "More Condos" is a good boogeyman. JG

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 3:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Isn't it "interesting" that, when this fait accompli project blow up in the face of the Center a few months ago, the Seattle Times then came out with an editorial very favorably supporting it, and then didn't even have an article about the upcoming public hearing, either the day before the hearing or the morning of it! Hm-m-m, you don't suppose the Times is in bed with powerful business interests, do you?

Bobalou

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 3:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Bobalou- Twas ever thus. You've got to get the "by the barrel" ink buyers on your side. JG

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 3:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Bobalou- Please tell us more about you- your Crosscut Profile says you're a "Newbie". JG

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 5:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Just a small business owner (with a BA in architecture, but I never became one, and a MS in city planning, but I never became one) who lives near Carkeek Park and is pissed that the city STILL hasn't provided us with a way to walk to the stores (no sidewalks, no curbs, etc), roads that are STILL in disrepair, "sharerows" that cheapen our claim to be a top bicycle city, etc and yet the city (pols AND the Times) STILL insist that we become a World Class City (remember hosting the WTO?) at the expense of its middle- (and lower) class residents.

Bobalou

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 6:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps the city could purchase the Seattle P-I globe and install it in Seattle center space. Wouldn't that improvement make Seattle a WORLD city? Except the city doesn't have to fix the globe. It can just let it sit, rusting away, while underneath it a plaque reads "Seattle: The City That Doesn't Work".

knoppy44

Posted Fri, Jul 9, 9:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Bobalou- I can understand your desire for privacy- but I think your
good views (because they agree with mine) would carry more
weight if your profile gave more info about yourself and where you're
coming from. I do hope to see more of your Crosscut comments. Jerry G-

Posted Sat, Jul 10, 7:47 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't mean to dump on Chihuly...I actually liked his early stuff. It's just that what he does these days (or has done for him)is such a visual cliche! Want proof? That hanging assembly thing he does these days (actually, has done for him) is in practically every convention center, opera house and Fortune 500 headquarters building in the country. Want local proof? Look at the photos on the front page to today's (July 10) Seattle Times. See that Mercer Island palace of elegance that just sold for $12 million (asking price $40 million)? You just know it's "elegant" when you see the "Egyptian-inspired" colonnade surrounding its indoor salt water swimming pool, but the exclamation point on elegance is the 12-ft tall Chihuly chandelier in one of the living rooms! God, it's always nice to see that being rich and having good taste don't necessarily go together!

Bobalou

Posted Sat, Jul 10, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

As to Bobalou's (above): "I don't mean to dump on Chihuly...I actually liked his early stuff.", count me in. The Mercer Island "palace of elegance" also alluded to is symptomatic of whar's happening to this still wonderful place where I've lived, practiced residential architecture for all these years. JG

Posted Sat, Jul 10, 7:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Not concerned with condos that will never be. The scuptures are hands off. Its anti-nature and toxic. As I said, I grew increasingly agro. Aggression is a natural reponse to the environment, not a character flaw. Its an exisential assault. Read Paul Shepards "Nature and Madness." As for toxic soil, that's pretty much the nature of the urban landscape. Indusrial by-products are ubiquitious. Every homeowner should test for the presence of heavy metals and arsnic which is quite common. For example, w.seattle is populated by old fruit trees that appear to have been part of a larger orchard. The accumulation of arsenic in the soil resulted due to regular pesticide use. Leaded gas and leaded painted have left similar legacies just to name a few.

Jerry, I feel the best way to affect change is through self-guided economic activity. Its revolutionary in that most activity is merely politics dressed up in economic drag. The best way to make money in this city is to be politically connected. That will change because the economics of politics is inherently self-defeating.

Posted Sat, Jul 10, 9:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, here's a good one (quotes are from the Crosscut article that started this chain of comments): "Supporters of ideas with little money behind them — such as a Native American cultural center — suggested money from a Dale Chihuly glass museum could help subsidize their ideas; backers of a Chihuly museum expressed openness to that idea." Oh, yes they would...right now anyway...it's just eyewash!

And here's the other good quote: "We just wanted to bring some energy back to the campus," said Ron Sevart, CEO of the Space Needle, which is working with Chihuly's staff on the museum idea." Energy? I was over there today (July 10) and the place was FULL of energy. Only the energy came from young people, some with tattoos, minorities, some with burqa over there faces, families in shorts, some pushing baby carriages, people in wheelchairs, etc. You know, he rabble. This isn't the class of energy the Space Needle wants. They want couples in suits, driving up in a taxi or Mercedes. Not people who'll scare off their customers. Better yet, people who'll spend money in their restaurant, not people who just want hot dogs or a sno-cones.

This is just another attempt, one of many, to "sanitize" the city.

Bobalou

Posted Sun, Jul 11, 3:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Again Bobalou wraps it all up with his: "This is just another attempt, one of many, to "sanitize" the city". JG

Posted Sun, Jul 11, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

The importance given to generating revenues by the presenters comes across clearly in your article. The KEXP proposal suddenly looks more viable against the Chihuly than the others for this reason. But it would also deliver on CEO Sevart’s goal of “bringing energy back to the campus” in a big, meaningful way since the Center is not currently an obvious go-to for rock. Presumably the crowds would be more local, younger, and diverse than the draw for Chihuly. Could Seattle handle the Center as part of the rock scene? Combined with the FROG/master plan proposal for more wide-open space in the central area, this could help define the Center for a generation.

Just on principle, one hates to think this story will have a big-money-gets-its-way-in-Seattle-again ending. If worst comes to worst and the Chihuly proposal is given the nod for financial reasons, several things make sense: (1) A better deal for the Center on recompense. The Chihuly would be a very lucrative number, generating revenues not only from entrance tickets but the museum store, restaurant receipts, and—not least—rentable space for social functions. If the decision on proposals is going to come to money, the city council ought to get serious about the money and negotiate the contract to include the lease plus a percentage of gross receipts. Make something good come of it.
(2) In plan view, the Broad Street lawn looks good. But on the ground, the traffic on Broad makes it less than pleasant in to be in. If the Chihuly were chosen, maybe it could be located along the Broad Street edge of the the Center, much as the Science Center borders Denny. That way more lawn could be located towards the center of the park, in accordance with the master plan, where it could be enjoyed by visitors.

In the recent Crosscut article on the pitfalls of designing a central waterfront park straddling an arterial, it was remarked that the waterfront actually needs a second major tourist draw besides the Seattle Aquarium. A Chihuly museum located on the waterfront would do civic duty as both a tourist destination and a venue for social-functions quite well, and bring a lot of energy to the waterfront.

JohnS

Posted Sun, Jul 11, 9:07 p.m. Inappropriate

JohnS'(above) makes a lot of sense to me- "A Chihuly museum located on the waterfront would do civic duty as both a tourist destination and a venue for social-functions quite well, and bring a lot of energy to the waterfront".

Posted Thu, Jul 15, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

I appreciate this discussion, the Seattle Center as it is now, is a ring of indoor venues, very few of which I attend regularly. I am usually trying to get to my indoor destination at the center by the shortest route possible, because the central core of the Seattle Center offers very little but a long walk. The place comes alive when there are events such as Bumbershoot, but most of the time it's a concrete jungle. Another static building like the proposed Chihuly museum will just about close the circle on this potentially marvelous city gathering place We should NOT privatize our public space, and ostracize the citizens of Seattle in an attempt to draw more tourists. WRITE YOUR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS NOW, WRITE THE MAYOR. That is where our opinions will make the most difference. Every letter represents at least 20 people. Do it! I have and I will again. Thanks.

gmgd

Posted Fri, Jul 16, 3:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Good debate requires more than just saying I don't like it.

A few basic facts: Among the RFP’s, The Chihuly Exhibit meets the largest number of Criteria as created by several years of public input and is the most fiscally sound.

I am so tired of those who say Chihuly is passé, not art, etc. I think its great that you have an opinion. That said, others disagree. Chihuly has large major works on display in major museums around the globe. His exhibits have drawn hundreds of thousands, often charging far more than this exhibit will charge. His is credited as a key player in the blown glass renaissance of the region. Many of the regions’ artists have worked for or with him.

I don’t care much for Wagnerian Opera, but have no problem with McCaw Hall being home to Seattle Opera’s Ring Cycle. Not my cup of tea, but it draws thousands to the region, generates revenue and jobs, many even union jobs. There are those who may question the art of the ring, or the nutcracker, or Disney on Ice, or the Roller Girls, but they all meet the criteria of the Seattle Center, and generate crowds and much needed revenue. I would never claim Wagner OR Ice Hockey as Passe.

The Seattle Center offers a home to more than 30 different institutions, groups and sports team (many of whom are FOR Profit enterprises using (GASP) Public lands and facilities (Many improved or built with public private partnerships). This land has been used as meeting grounds since tribal times the site of Potlatch, Picnics, and from the 1920s on, Ice Rink, Theatre and Concert Hall.

In a perfect world, we would have funds to re-mold the entire 70 some acres at once into wonderful event and park space. We don’t. What we do have is a large space about to go vacant, a $350,000 a year hole in the center budget, and guidelines as set by open, public meetings as to the goals of the center for the 21st Century.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming, but for once, we have an RFP that meets more goals than all others offered, with a proven draw record, and guaranteed fiscally by a known renter willing to insure the bills will be paid while meeting the public created and stated goals.

Chihuly creates an attraction that offers educational outreach, a strong draw, creates jobs, and takes NO tax dollars, requires NO additional fundraising for another Non Profit, and is desired by other existing tenants at the Seattle Center. It makes use of a building we already have paid for, and modifies it to improve it’s value at a time when we do not even have the funds to tear it down. WE still own it. NO other proposal does all that.

Lastly, and it needs to be restated, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma is NOT a Chihuly Museum. Our Aquarium has more Chihuly in it than the MOG does. That said, the week he was on site was the highest attended week yet, with standing room only, and the Bridge of Glass (which IS Chihuly) is one of the major draws in the city.

Just sayin.

Posted Sun, Jul 18, 4:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I think it was Knute Berger who suggested on KUOW one day that the Fun Forest makes a good interim solution. Blame it on the recession that an attractive funding option for redeveloping the Fun Forest site has not materialized along with the ideas. The Fun Forest proposal offers a flexible, year-to-year lease with the same services/terms as the present ones, along with the understanding that its days (or years) are numbered in view of long-term development interests at the Center. In the meantime, the Fun Forest provides pleasure to a lot of kids and their parents. Until the economy improves, this proposal offers a compromise: a way to wait it out for a sunnier day finances-wise, some income for the Center now, and a happy, local clientele. Tuck into the site a world-class roller-coaster as well and maybe the Fun Forest could go another 50.

JohnS

Posted Mon, Jul 19, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

hacknflack - You said "I am so tired of those who say Chihuly is passé, not art, etc. I think its great that you have an opinion. That said, others disagree." Well, hackhflack, I think it's great that YOU have an opinion, but that said, so do others, so please don't be so dismissive! As for Wagner, he's not the sole artist in the building, and he doesn't get any income from his work being there. It's not a good comparison.

Bobalou

Posted Thu, Aug 12, 9:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Put the Chihuly museum at the Seattle Center - or the waterfront. But since the waterfront location is not what's being served up here, let's drop it.

The Seattle Center is a huge tourist draw, and I don't feel it needs to be a locals hangout to be a vital part of the city. Chihuly has name recognition across the globe, putting this museum at the Center makes sense.

If I want to enjoy nature or open space here in my city of Seattle, I sure as hell am not going to go from my Central Area home to the Seattle Center, even if they razed half the buildings. There are so many better options - Discovery Park, Seward Park, all the little beach parks on Lake Washington, Tiger Mountain, the list goes on...

My parents spent their honeymoon in 1962 at the Seattle Center/World's Fair, traveling from eastern Montana. When I think what would have impressed them the most out of all the current proposals for the Fun Forest site, a musuem of glass art tops the list.

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