Our last Cola Sunday op-ed, which was written by guest writer, Seattle City Council Member Jean Godden, made the case against the plan for a Chihuly Musuem at Seattle Center.
Today, we've got a piece by local nightlife industry entrepreneur David Meinert supporting the idea.
Like so many others, I believe we need more open space in the central core of Seattle. Sadly, thanks to "community" activists who opposed Paul Allen developing his Commons plan in South Lake Union, Seattle lost an earlier chance to develop what could have been the equivalent of our Central Park. That opportunity is dead and long gone folks.
Some now have set their sights on Seattle Center.
Seattle Center has never been, and was never designed to be, an oasis of green parkland. But, fortunately, Seattle Center is almost doubling its current campus open space by developing 3.5 acres of the former Fun Forest space adjacent to the EMP, and soon, 10 acres where Memorial Stadium now stands. That would bring the total of campus open space to over 30 acres from the now 17 acres.
But instead of focusing our attention on these green opportunities, the naysayers choose to pick fight over a 1.5 acre sliver of asphalt that could be used to fund this green space expansion while adding to the depleted Seattle Center coffers and engaging people with an enticing art exhibit to visit the Center.
In the midst of this planning for almost doubling its open space, Seattle Center has brilliantly pulled together a $15 million investment from the Wright Family, owners of the Space Needle. After going through Seattle's tedious process for doing anything new—in this case getting reviewed by Seattle's Design Commission, an advisory group to the City Council and Mayor, and the Century 21 Committee who created the Seattle Center Master Plan—the project team has to hear “there has been no process.” Far from the truth.
The Wrights will invest part of their fortune to build a temporary exhibit of Seattle's most popular visual artist ever, Dale Chihuly, who has millions of fans internationally, but no local long-term exhibition.
The new Chihuly "glass house" and exhibit will fill a space at the foot of the Space Needle, one of Seattle's most popular tourist sites. It will take over a building on Center grounds currently occupied by an arcade, and will include an outdoor garden in a space now currently occupied by tired kiddie rides. The Wright's signed a 5-year lease for the space, renewable in several 5-year options with the possibility of the exhibit lasting for 20 years. A fantastic deal for the Seattle Center which needs to generate two thirds of its operating revenue on its own. The exhibit will pay $500,000 annual rent. So by using just a sliver of its 74-acre campus, the Center will generate about 14 percent of its annual operating budget. And on top of the rental income, the exhibit will generate another $124,000 to $248,000 in annual admissions tax plus even more in sales tax. The project will create several hundred new jobs, and more tourist dollars for local businesses, generating even more jobs and revenue for the City, which faces a $50 million budget deficit.
As a resident of Queen Anne, a fan of local art and music, a regular user of the Center, an owner of a nearby business that might get some of that tourist business, and an oft-times community activist myself, I must say that I'm pretty happy the City has decided to take advantage of an obviously great deal.
Oh, but wait, this is Seattle.
Nothing is quite that simple. Chihuly is not that "cool" or "relevant" to some of Seattle's most pernicious bloggers and forum commenters. Oh, and some rich folks might actually make a little more money. And in Seattle, that is horrible, because, well, profit is evil I guess, especially when it's someone else’s who we don't know.
Oh, and one more thing, even though it's not required and none of the other businesses at Seattle Center who have built PERMANENT buildings (as opposed to this temporary one) have ever competed in a public RFP call for proposals, this one for some reason is being singled out, and is being put through yet more process.
Because some of these owners are Republicans?! (Oh the horror, someone who disagrees with me!). Because some so-called civic leaders need to include their pet ideas in any project or they’ll bring the progress to a grinding halt? Because some supposed artist-types don’t like glass art? So now, the plan will go through even more of Seattle's famous process. Something that will delay the project, waste a lot of people's time and public money, but likely change nothing.
I want to say this to the critics of this plan - grow the hell up. Embracing diversity means embracing people with different ideas and tastes from our own. And in this case, even though I'm not a huge fan of glass art, and I don't expect I'll be going to this exhibit more than a few times when it opens or when I have guests in town, I do believe it can add a lot to the City in the form of tourism, diversity, beauty, and income.
And Seattle has to start embracing another concept - working with our community's financially successful local members. Once again, we lost a huge opportunity with the Commons because of our inability to embrace and work with one of our wealthiest residents. Let's not make that same mistake here. The result this time will be losing a first class, revenue generating art exhibit and in exchange, we’ll be left with a 1.5 acre piece of pavement we have to pay upkeep on. Let's be smart this time and not get bogged down in our loathing of local success at the cost of making this a great city.
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