Facing eviction next spring from its Stewart Street terminal, Greyhound has come up against an unlikely roadblock in its search for a new Seattle home. It's a standoff the city has seen before.
Greyhound has operated out of a Stewart Street facility in Seattle for more than 80 years, but with that property slated for redevelopment, the patriarch of U.S. intercity bus service is facing eviction in April. The company has its sights on a location at South 6th and Royal Brougham, just east of the stadiums, and the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which owns the parcel, is amenable to a lease, whose final terms remain under negotiation.
But Greyhound's plans do not sit well with Seattle artist Susan Zoccola, whose installation Bloom overlooks the 25,000-square-foot lot from the wall of the King County Metro parking garage immediately to the south.
In 2005, the George Benson waterfront streetcar's maintenance facility, near Broad and Elliott, found itself in the crosshairs when the Seattle Art Museum decided to build its Olympic Sculpture Park there. Art won that battle, and the streetcar disappeared.
This time, however, it appears that transportation will not be denied.
Greyhound's development permit application is progressing more or less smoothly through the city's Planning and Development Department, and WSDOT is on board with the plans — it presumably stands to gain lease income from Greyhound. The bus company, for its part, can look forward to a location just off the freeway, immediately adjacent to the Stadium light-rail station at 501 S. Royal Brougham Way and just a few hundred yards from Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field and the new basketball arena's site.
Cath Brunner, public art director at 4Culture, King County's cultural affairs agency, told Crosscut that “contracts provide that we must notify the artists if there are pending changes that might affect the art work. We were contacted by Greyhound through their design consultants. We immediately notified the artist — it was both contractual and the right thing to do.”
The county, which paid Zoccola $35,000 for the work in 2004, has thus helped her plead her case, but the artist and Brunner came away empty from a late summer meeting with staffers for Mayor Mike McGinn. “We were basically told there are no other locations [for the artwork] in Sodo, and it's very important to keep Greyhound in Seattle,” Zoccola recalled the encounter. “I didn't feel supported by the mayor's office in any way, shape or form.”
Asked to respond in an e-mail interview, McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus punted. “We don’t have jurisdiction regarding the art work,” he stated. “When our office learned about the issue, we reached out directly to 4Culture to facilitate an initial discussion with them and Greyhound.”
In their meetings and correspondence with Greyhound and its design consultant, Parametrix of Bremerton, Zoccola and 4Culture have asked Greyhound to reorient the terminal building, keep the structures as low as possible, distance the facility from the artwork, add up-lighting to illuminate the work better, build the bus canopy with a translucent material to make the work more visible, and paint the facility a neutral color rather than the bright blue Greyhound had planned on.
Reorienting the structures would mean parking buses under a freeway ramp, a no-no under federal Transportation Security Administration regulations. A Sept. 20 email from Greyhound real estate manager Randal Levingston to Zoccola and WSDOT intercity bus program manager Steve Abernathy gave ground on the color, promising a neutral gray in most places, but, 4Culture's Brunner reported, no other concessions satisfactory to Zoccola have been forthcoming.
“They can't make it any lower [than in the current design] and still get the buses in,” Brunner explained — and that's not low enough to allow full view of the art. As for the canopy's modifications, “they declined to do that, saying it would cost too much.”
In an e-mail statement, Nick Licata, who chairs the City Council's committee for culture, said, “I’ve ridden Greyhound buses for years and I value the critical inter-city transportation services they provide. But, I would hope a company that earned $30 million in profits last year could do more to accommodate this major public artwork. By doing so, they would enhance their customers’ experiences of riding Greyhound in Seattle.”
Greyhound media relations manager Tim Stokes told Crosscut that “there's nothing that's been finalized” with the relocation, but he declined to react to Licata's comment or get into specifics on any aspect of the quandary.
The obvious option of finding another site for the work evaporated early on in the process.
“There's no money for that,” Zoccola said.
That leaves her installation, so to speak, up against the wall.
“I don't see any way that it [the terminal] isn't going to block the artwork,” she said. “I made it so that it could be seen from the freeway and Sound Transit trains, and by the pedestrians going to the stadiums. It's a great location for this piece of art. Greyhound is building the building four feet from the artwork. Maybe a cat could see the piece.”
In a Sept. 4 letter to Greyhound and WSDOT, Zoccola, who holds a copyright on the work, asserted “the right to prevent the intentional distortion and modification of my artwork,” given that Greyhound's design “violates my rights under the [federal] Visual Artists Rights Act.” She told Crosscut she has taken her woes to Washington Lawyers for the Arts, a volunteer group. “They're exploring the possibility that I would have some intellectual property rights for the piece, that I could probably make a stink that they'd basically be cutting off the view of the piece.”
Asked what she might do if Greyhound gets all the necessary green lights to proceed, she said, in a tone less belligerent than her words might seem, “I've been holding that card to my chest. I still have the opportunity to file my suit, and I'm not giving up on that threat. ... I don't know. Without the support of the city of Seattle I feel I don't have much strength.
“I'm not anti-Greyhound — it's just seems unfortunate that another site couldn't be found.”
Should an artist who has sold a work to the public, for installation on a transit agency's building, expect to have a say in the handling of the public need for transportation, to have the last word over what happens to a work that someone else owns? As the piece's owner, King County has taken no official position on the case. If Zoccola were to take her arguments to court, Brunner said, “I don't know where we'd come down.”
Brunner's office has inquired with colleague agencies as to any precedents for the standoff, but has learned of only one analogous case, from Vancouver, B.C. In that instance the developer paid a $500,000 mitigation to the city's public art program. The work in question stayed put, but the grant allowed for its “complete refurbishment,” according to the city's public art program manager, Bryan Newson, whose statement Brunner forwarded to Crosscut.
“The thing that makes [the Greyhound site] tricky is that we don't own the land,” Brunner said, “and it's a view impact. ... Greyhound is not proposing to physically alter the piece of art. I think it's more about public investment, view protection, the value of the art on the site.”
Bryan Stevens, spokesman for the city's Department of Planning and Development, said that a development permit for the site could be issued as early as year's end, clearing the path for construction. WSDOT's Abernathy anticipated that Greyhound would then install a modular terminal in order to fast-track construction and thus open the facility by the April eviction deadline. That would remove any need for the company to negotiate a short-term extension on its Stewart Street lease.
“The deadline's going to be really tight,” he said.
The apparent backing of a pro-transit mayor works in Greyhound's favor, and may prove the difference between this rhubarb and the brouhaha that left the waterfront streetcar in mothballs in 2005. Public art may have to move to the back of the bus.