This Tuesday night, March 30, you might want to witness the public hearing on what to do with the Fun Forest at Seattle Center. It's at Center House, meeting room A, starting at 6:30. If you want to put in your two-minutes' worth (all that will be allowed, due to the expected big turnout), you'd be advised to sign in early, starting at 5 pm.
Most of the excitement will be about the proposal by the Space Needle and glass artist Dale Chihuly to put an all-Dale exhibit in the Fun Forest building, with adjoining small park featuring more Chihuly glass pieces and sculpture and a large greenhouse festooned with his colorful artistry. Admission would be charged for the whole project, which would be built and operated by the Space Needle at no public cost.
The Center favors the project, with reservations, saying that the cash-hungry Center needs the revenue from the rental, and the whole Center would benefit by having more visitors (mostly tourists) drawn by the famous Chihuly brand. Public opinion, judging by emails to the City Council, has been less smitten, noting that the clunky Fun Forest building is supposed to be torn down so that the area will become part of green open space, according to the Center's new master plan.
Update: I had originally put Mayor Mike McGinn in the camp of favoring the proposal, with reservations, relying on his earlier stance, as reported by The Seattle Times:
Mayor Mike McGinn took a different stance [from City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw, who opposes the Chihuly idea]. He said the Chihuly exhibit could be a good way to generate revenue for the Center, which funds 67 percent of its own budget. 'We should be open to see what they can develop here, because it could be good for the Center,' he said, adding that master plans like the 2008 document are meant to be flexible.
Flexible is the key word there, for the mayor's spokesman Mark Matassa sent to me this statement of the mayor's current nuanced position on the issue:
The mayor does not favor the project, and never has said he does. So far he has merely described the financial pressures on Seattle Center and said he supports his Seattle Center Director, Robert Nellams, as Nellams explores options. But Mayor McGinn has not taken a position on the merits of this particular proposal, except to say that it would need to make sense for the Center and have public support to earn his backing.
I read this, perhaps unfairly, as an indication that the mayor, like much of the city council, is moving toward increased skepticism about the idea, responding to public sentiment and media columns that seem to be against the proposal. Among their criticisms: wondering if a whole museum dedicated to Chihuly, whose works are placed in many lobbies around town, is a bit much, competes with Tacoma's glass museum, and is more like a showroom than a proper use of public space.
Should be a lively public hearing, and it may even decide the fate of this troubled project. (Disclosure: I'll be there, as part of the opposition to the proposal.)