Mayor Mike McGinn announced today (Dec. 15) a deal to open a Dale Chihuly glass museum and also create a new studio for alternative-rock radio station KEXP at the Seattle Center, striking a compromise of sorts after nearly a year of public debate over what should replace the kiddie rides that have long entertained families at the base of the Space Needle.
McGinn had a cast of partners and supporters at his side in a Seattle Center meeting room for the announcement — notably City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, head of the Parks Committee and an early skeptic of plans to locate the Chihuly museum at the Center. Bagshaw early this year raised questions about a privately struck deal between Chihuly and the Wright family, which owns the Space Needle, and called for a public process. She said today that the plan was made much better through the steps that followed — including a Request for Proposals, public meetings to review the nine ideas coming from that, and a review panel's study and recommendation.
As part of the deal, the Wright family will contribute $1 million to create a playground in what is now the north area of the Fun Forest carnival, and it will give an additional $1 million for upkeep of the playground. The Wright/Chihuly team already had agreed to provide schools some free access to the paid-admission museum, which will be built in the south area of the Fun Forest, and to offer more public artwork in an open area surrounding the facility.
The museum is planned to open in time for the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair, in 2012. It will hold 12,500 square feet of inside exhibit space, plus a "Glass House," exterior gardens, and a café and gift shop. Museum backers estimated the facility would create 225 jobs and generate $10 million in lease revenue for the city over 20 years.
KEXP's new studio will occupy part of the area now known as the Northwest Rooms, just north of Key Arena. The facility, to open in 2013, will have glass walls with views of DJs and visiting musicians, and a gallery where people can watch live performances. The station also will expand its existing sponsorship of concerts at the Center, staging hundreds of free shows on a stage adjacent to the new studio.
In addition to planning the new playground — the city will issue a Request for Proposals to design that — a new task force next year will begin raising $10 million to help remake Memorial Stadium. The plan is to tear down the south wall of the stadium and to create more open space in that area.
McGinn said those plans fall along the lines of a proposal by a group calling itself Open Platform, one of the teams that competed for a chance to replace the Fun Forest. "It had a fabulous, exciting idea about how we could activate that space," he said.
McGinn said the city also is talking with a group that had backed a Northwest Native Cultural Center instead of the Chihuly museum. That group issued a statement saying it had been encouraged by Seattle Center director Robert Nellams to pursue establishing a permanent exhibit at the Center.
"We are encouraged by Mr. Nellams' commitment to include a Native cultural venue at Seattle Center," group leader Roger Fernandes, a Native artist and storyteller, said in the statement. "Seattle Center is an ideal spot for recognizing the indigenous people of Seattle, since the site is located on Duwamish ancestral land."
McGinn emphasized that although his recommendation is not far from the Chihuly vision that first surfaced a year ago, public input in the meantime led to significant changes.
"Nothing about this was pre-ordained," McGinn said, referring to the contentiousness surrounding the Chihuly proposal early on. "And we have more work to do. But we're doing our best here to create the type of place people will want to come to."
The radio station will launch a capital campaign to pay for improvements to the site, and it has committed to paying $62,500 in annual rent — an amount the city's review panel questioned as a stretch for the station. Tom Mara, KEXP's executive director, said the nonprofit group has not yet set a goal for the fundraising campaign.
McGinn said the city is still open to working with other ideas that surfaced during the Fun Forest negotiations, including a Northwest Native Cultural Center and a plan for more open space at the Center. But groups backing those ideas were not as far along in their planning, and the city still has more work to do with them, he said.
The Chihuly/KEXP deal must still be approved by the City Council, but Bagshaw signaled the skids have been greased: "I can tell you we're united," Bagshaw said. Some details around the "edges" still needed work, she added, "But we're going to make it happen."
Referring obliquely to her frequent policy disagreements with McGinn, Bagshaw glanced at the mayor after approaching the microphone and quipped: "It's a pleasure standing on a stage with you on the same side of an issue."