Seattle Center

A Showdown Nears Over What Will Replace the Fun Forest

KEXP turned out the fans, but the longhouse is gaining cred.

By Eric Scigliano September 14, 2010

The proposed Northwest Native Cultural Center: Can you tell the locals from the tourists?

Any day now, a city commission is expected to recommend one of nine competing proposals to redevelop the Fun Forest site at the south side of Seattle Center; the mayor then weighs in, and the city council decides. This face-off has become a communal Rorschach test. Do we look at this town’s last tattered amusement park—a relic of the Seattle of Ivar Haglund and J.P. Patches—and see a greensward, a Chihuly glass show, a radio station and soundstage, a longhouse for native arts, or an all-purpose “open platform”? Or maybe a sweeter deal for the Fun Forest so it will stick around? Every cultural faction has its bid in except sports, (which already has more stadiums and arenas than it can fill), high culture (which already has its Seattle Center bastions), and the tech biz, which has South Lake Union.

So which schemes are lagging or pulling ahead? The Open Platform
spearheaded by Lorna Jordan, a proven big-project artist who created the winning Water Garden at Metro’s Renton plant, made a splash with an endorsement from The Stranger. But Open Platform’s appeal—its all-embracing, er, openness—may be its downside. There’s not a lot of that there, and it sounds like an improved updated microcosm of the whole multi-use Seattle Center.

KEXP-FM has roused loud support from listeners and the influential music community. But its bid to bring indie rock to the center seems a bit redundant on top of Bumbershoot and the namesake Experience Music Project. (And look how well that’s worked out.) Not to mention a buzzkill for tourists, families, and fogies, who, even in Seattle, count for something.

A leafy Center Park would have wider, if quieter, appeal. It would uphold the principles enshrined in Seattle Center’s master plan. And it would help fill the need for green space in this overpaved central city—redressing the malling of Westlake in the ’80s and the rejection of the Commons in the ’90s.

But our unscientific zeitgeist sniffer detects rising prospects for another sleeper proposal: the Northwest Native Cultural Center, which yesterday released this rendering from Jones and Jones. Enlisting the celebrated local architect (and Choctaw member) Johnpaul Jones gives NNCC cred: His firm has designed Evergreen College’s acclaimed longhouse, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall, Woodland Park’s breakthrough habitat exhibits, and dozens of other notable naturescapes and native cultural projects. Prominent artists, historians, and native groups also back NNCC. It, like the green park, would address a glaring lack—the absence of Seattle’s original cultures from its constellation of cultural attractions. And more than any other proposal, it could appeal to visitors and locals alike—a tourist magnet like the Chihuly gallery, minus the Chihuly baggage.

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