Updated to include comments from Mayor Mike McGinn and Council member Sally Bagshaw.

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Today, at a press conference held at the Seattle Center, Mayor Mike McGinn announced his intention to move a controversial Chihuly glass museum and radio station KEXP studios to the Seattle Center campus, as well as launch a $10 million capital campaign to tear down the south bleachers of Memorial Stadium and open up 13 acres of green space to the public.

"It’s a big vision for what we sant to do with Seattle Center," said McGinn. "We all know the financial reality we face in the city... [this project will be] big and expensive but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps now. We want to make it more kid friendly, active vibrant, financially stable."

The Seattle City Council must ultimately ratify the proposals, which seems likely. At the press conference, council member Sally Bagshaw, chair of the council's parks and Seattle Center committee, vowed that the Chihuly museum would be in place in time for the Seattle Center's 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1962 World's Fair. "Chihuly will be ready to go," she said. "We’re united in it, there are still some edges that have to be dealt with but by and large we’re ready to go and make this happen." There have been public and city council reservations about the for-profit Chihuly museum because it has limited public benefit. That said, the new tenants stand to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of annual revenue to the Seattle Center, a 74-acre site owned and partially operated by the city.

Locations of Chihuly, KEXP, and new park space--click to enlarge
  • Seattle Center
  • Locations of Chihuly, KEXP, and new park space—click to enlarge
If approved by the council, it comes as no surprise that the Chihuly museum—backed by the Space Needle LLC and a truckload of wealth—will move into the controversial 1.3-acre south Fun Forest site in 2012. (The site sits adjacent to the Space Needle itself, making it a prime catering and event space for the Needle). But that victory didn’t happen without a few concessions—including a last-minute deal for the group to fund a 1,700 square foot Pacific Northwest artist retail gallery on the Seattle Center campus. And considering that the Seattle City Council must approve the center’s lease agreement before the Chihuly museum can break ground, City Hall sources say there may be more compromises to come.


The decision comes after ten months of debate, involving thousands of petitions, calls, and emails from the public to elected officials.

Read more about compromises, KEXP's new digs, and the city’s plans for 13 acres of added green space—unless another local millionaire demands a museum of his own—after the jump.

Moving the Chihuly museum to the Seattle Center has been an exercise in compromise for the Space Needle—first came the million-dollar children’s park and free tickets for Seattle Public school children (more on that here). In addition to the Pacific Northwest artists’ gallery are the most recent changes to the museum's proposal:

The city will receive eight percent of net sales of Chihuly art, starting in year six and running through the end of the lease.

The museum will landscape roughly 35,000 square feet of public space outside of its 55,000 square foot fenced site, adding 20-foot wide walkways to the north, south, and east of the site, as well as benches and at least two Chihuly sculptures for the public to enjoy (without having to pay for the privilege or peak through a fence).

The museum will also spearhead a watered down First Thursday event so-called Center Nights program, “a regular open house where all the organizations on campus are driving people to the center,” said Ron Sevart, CEO of the Space Needle. Through this program, the museum will distribute “10,000 to 15,000 free tickets a year” to people who can’t afford the estimated $12-$15 ticket price.

Now here’s what Chihuly museum backers haven’t yet committed to, but city council members are likely to press them on before approving a lease agreement, according to sources: showcasing artists other than Chihuly in the museum for at least two weeks out of the year—instead of simply shuffling them off into a PNW artists’ gallery—and honoring a free admission First Thursday night for the public as every other museum in Seattle does, including the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Experience Music Project, the Science Fiction Museum, the Henry Art Gallery, the Museum of Flight, the Museum of History and Industry, and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The Northwest Rooms, reimagined by KEXP (facing 1st Ave N)
  • KEXP
  • The Northwest Rooms, reimagined by KEXP (facing 1st Ave N)
Meanwhile, KEXP would move into a concrete building on the Queen Anne edge of campus, next to the Key Arena and the Vera Project on Republican Street and First Avenue N. At nearly 28,000 square feet, the space eclipses KEXP’s current 6,000 square foot building on Dexter Avenue N, although Tom Mara, the station’s executive director, admits that the building needs work. “Right now they call that area the blockade, the Berlin Wall,” said Mara, “but we hope to replace the concrete walls with windows so people can walk by and see live performances, take tours, and really experience how we curate.” Mara added that in addition to an in-studio space that will accommodate “multitudes of dozens of visitors,” KEXP plans to build an adjacent outdoor stage to host a portion of their 400 live, local performances each year. "Our goal is to open up the space and become really great neighbors with the Queen Anne neighborhood, said Mara.


The extra space will also allow KEXP to reach listeners through a host of new avenues—from offering video and audio recordings of live performances to Seattle Public Library patrons, to broadcasting performances on the Seattle Channel, to collaborating with the Experience Music Project on future projects and exhibits. “Through this space and these partnerships, we can connect more people to good music,” said Mara. “Ultimately, that’s our mission.” The station is negotiating a 30-year lease agreement with the Seattle Center for an annual rent of $290,500 ($62,500 in cash; $228,00 provided through on-air spots for the center). The Seattle Center hopes to have a lease agreement to the Seattle City Council for approval by March of next year. Once approved, Mara said the station will start fundraising for the project (“No amount has been set,” he added, “We need to speak with our architects first.”). Seattle Center director Robert Nellams said the station would join the campus in 2013, at the earliest.

With the Chihuly museum and KEXP slated for the Seattle Center, what’s missing from the picture is the green space many individuals and organizations—including rivals for the Fun Forest site Open Platform and Friends of the Green—were calling for. Nellams said that, too, is in the works. The Space Needle LLC has already committed to funding a million-dollar playground on the campus, which is slated for Center Square, a three-acre asphalt site tucked between the EMP, Memorial Stadium, and the monorail platform (the same space that will temporarily host a big-ass Ferris wheel starting next April). “We’re putting together a Center Space task force to look at how we can take that million dollars and create an open, public sustainable space,” said Nellams. The task force will also examine how to best tear down the south stands of Memorial Stadium to open up nine additional acres—for a total of 12 acres of public green space. From there, the center would launch another bidding process to develop the land. “We had a lot of conversations with Open Platform about their concepts, many of which we want to see done,” said Nellams. “Open platform could absolutely bid.”

The center estimates such a project would cost $10 million to develop—five million for Center Square and another five million to tear down the stadium wall. Nellams said Jeffrey Wright, whose family owns the Space Needle, has committed to serving on the task force and spearheading fundraising efforts. “We anticipate having the task force formed in the first half of next year,” Nellams added, “with the hope of seeing movement [on this project] in October of 2012—after the 50th anniversary celebration of the World’s Fair.”