Roughly 80 people attended the Seattle City Council's Parks and Seattle Center Committee meeting last night, with roughly 30 people commenting, mostly in favor of the Chihuly museum project. They love Chihuly and the idea of a Chihuly glass museum. But what they didn't say—and what multiple conversations with Space Needle CEO Ron Sevart haven't revealed—is why a privately-owned and operated project needs to go on public land. Sevart insists that the Space Needle has not, and will not, consider another location for the project (although the Wright family could certainly afford it).
"Our goal is to draw people to Seattle Center," Sevart said in an interview last week.
David Blandford, spokesman for Seattle's Convention and Visitor's Bureau, spoke at the meeting in favor of the proposal, saying it would be a tourist magnet for Seattle. He mentioned that the last spike in tourism happened after the completion of the downtown Public Library (which is a mile from Seattle Center).
A Belltown woman also spoke in favor of the project, saying that she loved running through the Sculpture Park along the waterfront—four blocks from Seattle Center—while marveling about what a great city she lives in. She believes a Chihuly Museum will enhance our city's greatness.
However, both speakers failed to acknowledge that the public has free access to both the Sculpture Park and the Seattle Public Library. The Chihuly museum would cost between $12 and $14 to enter, says Space Needle spokeswoman Mary Bacarella. Severt adds, "Fifty percent of the Chihuly Museum can be accessed by the public without paying admission." The free area? The museum's entrance, cafe (where you buy food), and gift shop (where you buy souvenirs).
But more to the point: There are plenty of other places in the city that would be great for a private Chihuly museum that aren't on publicly-owned land.
The final public speaker last night mentioned the $500,000 in annual lease payments the city would receive for this project. The Fun Forest paid $350,000 annually for the site. It's true that given the city's current financial crisis, the money is attractive. Proponents of the Chihuly museum are quick to point out that the city doesn't have the money to develop this public site, and that if not turned into a museum, it will languish as an asphalt jungle from now to eternity.
But these Chihuly cheerleaders are attempting to create a false sense of urgency, when the city has long recognized that the vision for the Seattle Center will take some time. The Seattle Center Master Plan, which took two years to develop with a hefty amount of public input, is "characterized by reclaiming and unifying open space at the heart of the campus.... [and] charts the direction for Seattle Center’s growth over a 20-year period. It retains flexibility for change and is not intended to be fully funded or constructed in one piece."