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Originally published November 20, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 20, 2007 at 8:43 AM

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Proposal: Shut down Fun Forest by late 2009

The Ferris wheel, bumper cars and other amusement rides likely will stop running at Seattle Center in two years, victims of declining revenues...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Ferris wheel, bumper cars and other amusement rides likely will stop running at Seattle Center in two years, victims of declining revenues and a changing vision at the city-owned cultural campus.

Under a proposed deal with the city, the Fun Forest amusement park, a remnant of the 1962 World's Fair, would permanently close at the end of 2009.

"It's not our preference, but the city wants to go in a different direction," said Steve Robertson, general manager of the amusement park where he has worked since 1967.

The Fun Forest has lost business in recent years and fallen behind on rent payments to the city. In exchange for reduced rent, the Fun Forest would agree to shorten its lease, which now runs through 2014. The City Council's parks committee is scheduled to vote on the proposal today.

"I think the city will lose an icon," Robertson said.

Fun Forest revenues have dropped from more than $5 million in 2004 to under $4 million last year, said Robert Nellams, Seattle Center's director.

"Basically the public has voted with their feet by not attending the Fun Forest," Nellams said, adding it wouldn't be prudent to subsidize the privately owned business, which occupies 5 acres of prime property at the 74-acre center.

"We can't stay in nostalgia," he said. "We have to move on."

Mayor Greg Nickels has called the Fun Forest "tired" and suggested it's a 20th-century relic no longer exciting enough to attract throngs of teenagers. A blue-ribbon committee appointed by Nickels agreed, recommending earlier this year that the area could be better used for open space.

Nellams said he'd be sad to see the Fun Forest dismantled. "I'm native. I spent a lot of time at the Fun Forest. It's a family-run business and they're great people, but they're not making the type of revenues they have in the past."

The amusement park owes $763,890 in back rent, fees and taxes to the city, and is projected to fall an additional $821,000 short this year and next. Under the proposed deal, the Fun Forest would operate through Labor Day 2009. Then it would remove all of its equipment, which it hopes to sell.

Robertson called the proposed deal with the city "fair."

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After investing $8 million in a new arcade and other improvements in 1996, Robertson said the Fun Forest's debt and declining revenues have proven a double whammy. "We just haven't been able to buy million-dollar rides lately."

While Seattle Center is likely to lose a chunk of its history, Nellams noted that the Center, from its inception, has been about the changing future. "This is an opportunity to create new tradition and history, and hopefully people will see this as a dignified and honoring way to move on."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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