I know, I know: Articles about parks are normally about as fun to read (or write) as a LiveSlog of childbirth. But in 2011, park news (hopefully) won't be centered on wading pool hours and the benefits of planting native grasseszzzzz.
Don't like the city trading out public space to private partners (at least temporarily) like the Chihuly museum? Too bad. That's going to be the way parks shape up. The question is—what will the city get out of it? The answer is some pretty neat stuff! Maybe!
Because in case you hadn't heard the news, the city is broke and pantsless. The parks department took a $10 million cut to its budget in 2011-2012, and cut hours (and positions) affecting nearly 200 employees—basically reducing the department to a can of paint and half a gardening sheer. Despite that, at least three major parks projects will make headway next year, which means they won't succeed without these public-private partnerships. And aside from rent payments, those partnerships can either draw people to the area, as KEXP and a Chihuly museum will do for the Seattle Center, or do not a goddamn thing for the public, like plunking office space will do for Magnuson Park.
A few projects that the city will wrestle with in 2011 after the jump.
Magnuson Park's Building 30, plus some: Building 30, the dilapidated hangar that the city can't afford to fix up, is prime for business. Early next year, the city council must figure out how to preserve Building 30 which generates $150,000 annually for Seattle Parks and Recreation, but is cutting the events it hosts from 35 to four because the building is falling apart. So are other historic, underutilized gems in the park (like the old firehouse, whose roof collapsed a few years ago). The city has entered into a few lease agreements for private businesses to renovate and inhabit his historic district is primed for more public private partnerships in the vein of Building 27, which is slated to be renovated and occupied by a sports facility. The city could issue a 20-year bond for Building 30's renovations, but that basically ignores the other buildings in dire need of renovation. What Magnuson Park needs is more businesses to act as stewards for some of the buildings and promote the parks usage—businesses like bike shops, kayak rentals, even restaurants or cafes. The rent from these businesses could help subsidize the renovations of other buildings, like Building 30 (which the city has promised to turn into artists' studios for years now).
Seattle's Waterfront Redesign: It's impossible to not get excited about the possibilities of a waterfront redesign—especially with james corner field operations at the helm. The lead design firm plans to start its public outreach process early next year to find out what residents and businesses want to see along the water. Meanwhile, the framework and conceptual plan for the waterfront will be completed over the next two years, which means the city will have to come to terms—quickly—with how much public space it'll be willing to relinquish (and to what types of businesses) in order to pay for the waterfront that people want to see. "Will there be condominiums and high rises along the waterfront? Clearly, the answer is no," said council member Sally Bagshaw, chair of the Parks and Seattle Center committee, last fall. Instead, the waterfront needs unique businesses that'll enhance the waterfront, for example a giant ferris wheel, or a scuba diving rental store, or maybe a combination gun range and florist shop called Guns and Roses.
Seattle Center, Chihuly, and Beyond: The Seattle City Council will most likely approve lease agreements to house the Chihuly museum on public land in January. But before the agreements are signed, council member Nick Licata is playing hardball (a game Seattle Center officials seem incapable of playing) to get Chihuly backers to agree to host one free public night a month at the museum. This is important because next year, the Seattle Center will start the arduous process of raising approximately $10 million to open up 12 acres of green space on the campus. So far, the city hasn't explored just exactly what it'll take to raise this money—they're simply focused on the end result. But some of that funding should come from bringing new tenants to the campus—hopefully family-oriented businesses who would complement the area, like a day care or children's indoor gymnasium.
The fruition of these three deals is years away but it's the planning—which is happening now—that will make them worthwhile to residents. Public-private partnerships are inevitable. They're also beneficial—when they don't involve plunking down bullshit office space or eight-foot-tall fences. And starting next year, the city will start planning the partnerships that will dramatically effect how residents interact in, and with, public space.