Residents speaking with project proponents before the meeting
  • Residents speaking with project proponents before the meeting
Last night's meeting over the future of the Fun Forest site at Seattle Center was different from the last one. Scores of PR flacks from the Space Needle didn't flood the sign-up sheet this time to provide gushing testimony on the virtues of the Chihuly glass museum. And this time—at long last—the other eight proposed uses for the 1.5-acre area got a public hearing.

The Seattle Center drew a crowd of over 300 people last night to comment and question the nine proposals.

Both in testimony to the panel charged with reviewing the proposals and in discussions during an open house beforehand, the fight comes down to a trade-off between Chihuly (which serves out-of-towners but can provide $350,000 to $500,000 a year in operating expenses to the financially beleaguered Seattle Center) and all of the other proposals (most with more artistic merit but little in the way of revenue for the city).

Open Platforms proposal to create outdoor video, music, and performance spaces
  • Open Platforms proposal to create outdoor video, music, and performance spaces
Of the alternative proposals, the leader was a proposal to bring the KEXP radio station office into the former arcade pavilion and surround it with the outdoor public exhibition spaces proposed by Open Platform.

"Getting a park plus KEXP is the ideal combination for me," said Crystal Schaler, a Belltown resident. "It sounds like a fantastic project."

"KEXP already has a huge community base and they produce hundreds of events attended by thousands of people," said Susan Barth, from Ballard. "Seattle's a music town and they bring the music."

The KEXP project would bring less money to the city ($250,000 in annual rent). But it more than makes up for it in civic contribution. KEXP has a thriving local following; it reaches an audience of 200,000 people each week and produces over 500 live shows in Seattle annually. The station estimates it would draw 100,000 people to the Center each year.

The other proposals, which are weaker in the revenue-drawing department, each had their strengths—and their champions. The Northwest Native Cultural Center would teach visitors about native practices such as story telling and basket weaving; a Northwest Mystery Museum would combine the best of Northwest history and lore; the Fun Forest Amusement Company (which currently occupies the space and proposes staying put) is loved by kids and Skee Ball enthusiasts ("I'll vote for anything with Skee Ball," commented one resident while perusing their proposal); and Friends of the Green is the only proposal that pushes to demolish the Arcade Pavilion and fully open up the space. "Open Platform's proposal is interesting," said David Brewster, leader of FROG, "but our project triples the amount of space available."

These are all great ideas. None of them have money. Which is the point Chihuly folks pounded home while banging the drum of the potential revenue—unmatched by its competition.

"From a visitor and tourism perspective, it's hard to ignore the strength of what Chihuly would do," said Tom Norwalk, President of Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The financial strength of this project could help others find a home [at the Seattle Center]."

The Chihuly museum estimates it would draw 400,000 people to the Center annually, the majority of whom would be tourists. In essence, that's the difference between the Chihuly museum and most of the other proposals—it will clearly make money for the city but at the cost of civic involvement.

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Along with comments, there were a lot of good suggestions thrown around at the meeting last night. Commenters called for the Seattle Center to develop more than one proposal on its grounds and to continue engaging the community in the process, instead of creating private partnerships without public knowledge.

Next, the selection committee has until the end of August to question proposers in greater detail about their projects—about funding, community benefit, or anything else that comes to mind—before recommending one or more of the proposals to Seattle Center director Robert Nellams. Nellams will then forward his recommendation to Mayor Mike McGinn before it can be voted on by city council.

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