Seattle Council Member Nick Licata, who co-chaired a committee 12 years ago that transformed Sandpoint into Magnuson Park—a place with a dog beach and a playground and numerous athletic fields and nonprofit community space—is concerned about the artists being vacated from Building 11 to make room for commercial interests. He's concerned about derailing the vision for Magnuson. He's concerned about Magnuson's future without artists in it. The original plan proposed to the council by Seattle Parks and Recreation (the plan the council approved) utilized a commercial lease to help pay for building renovations that would include the artists, upstairs, with a few subsidized studios.
“There’s no denying that the artists were squeezed out,” Licata says. "I think we’re drifting away from our original vision of what Magnuson Park was supposed to be." The problem is the city’s current economic climate forced funding cuts for another building renovation (the cost of which was underestimated) for Building 30—a proposed new artists space. Artists were told they'd be moved into the west wing of Building 30 once it was renovated. The city currently has no time line or budget for renovating Building 30.
Magnuson Park is supposed to serve community interests, not commercial ones, per the original Sandpoint deed between Seattle and the Navy. However, developing public/private partnerships are essential to renovating and maintaining Magnuson's impressive, huge, decaying structures, according to the parks department and many members of council. There simply isn't the budget to maintain them otherwise.
So now Magnuson Park is set to become the first park in Seattle with dedicated commercial office space, and with no current space for artists, and furthermore, no dedicated space in the developer's lease agreement for artists as originally talked about, according to the artists. The public/private partnership is unbalanced. It’s an uncomfortable situation for everyone involved—the 20-odd artists are feeling used, the parks department is frantically searching for relocation alternatives (which they pledged to do a year ago), and members of the city council are apologetic. And still, plans move forward as-is.
There are two reasons the situation has deteriorated to this depressing state, according to Licata. The artists don’t bring in a real revenue stream to the park (an artist and renter in Magnuson Park Building 11 Perri Lynch says artists provided $90,000 in rent last year). Also, “They don’t have much muscle as a constituency,” says Licata, “and really what they’ve needed is a strong advocate of public official” representing their interests. So now, it seems, they’re SOL.
Where do we go from here? I have calls in to Council Member Sally Bagshaw, the new chair of the Seattle Center and Parks Committee, to find out.