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Originally published March 25, 2010 at 9:32 PM | Page modified March 25, 2010 at 10:12 PM

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Seattle Center asks public: Chihuly museum or something else?

The city will seek public bids to compete with a proposed 44,000-square-foot exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass art at Seattle Center.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Have your say

The city will seek public comment about the proposed Dale Chihuly exhibit and other potential uses for the former Fun Forest site next Tuesday, March 30, at 6:30 p.m. at Center House at Seattle Center.

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The city will seek public bids to compete with a proposed 44,000-square-foot exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass art at Seattle Center.

Criticism over the lack of public input about the project forced the decision, Seattle Center spokeswoman Deborah Daoust said Thursday.

Center staff, including Director Robert Nellams, decided to solicit other options for the property just hours after the company backing the glass exhibit said it welcomes a public bidding process.

"We think that the point of view that this hasn't been a public process is contrary to the way we've approached this," said Ron Sevart, the CEO of the Space Needle. "We weren't trying to avoid anything."

The Wright family, which built and owns the Space Needle, unveiled drawings two weeks ago of a $15 million, privately financed glass-art exhibit at the base of the Space Needle.

The paid-admission exhibit would be a tribute to Chihuly, filled with $50 million worth of his glass art. The Wrights had been talking for more than a year with Seattle Center officials about the project.

They would lease 1.5 acres of Seattle Center property that is being vacated by the Fun Forest, a collection of children's rides and games.

Seattle Center doesn't always seek public bids for available space, Daoust said.

"We just thought this was a wonderful proposal for what it would bring to the public, for what it would bring for Seattle Center," she said. Center officials said the lease money would help pay for other improvements to the Center, which must raise two-thirds of its own revenue.

But the proposal was met with skepticism, and even those who supported the idea said the city should seek other options before allowing a private company to build a moneymaking venture on public parkland.

"Now it seems that there's been enough said in the media and enough negative thoughts floating in the atmosphere that we felt that the public process needs to be broadened," Daoust said.

Details of a bidding process have not been worked out.

Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, the chairwoman of the Parks and Seattle Center Committee, both support public bids.

"We heard the public, that they want an open process, and we're going to do an open process," McGinn said. "Any proposal will have to win the support of the public, because the public loves Seattle Center."

McGinn also said the city shouldn't necessarily be tied to a privately funded project. Officials could decide against all of the proposals.

Bagshaw, who has pushed for public bids from the beginning, said she was "delighted." The glass-exhibit deal was cut between Seattle Center officials, Chihuly and the Wrights, she said, but the city should step back, establish criteria, and consider what it wants to do with that space.

"People are doing this right now out of good intentions. There's nothing evil now," Bagshaw said. "Seattle Center is trying to meet a budget, and that is in my mind not necessarily the best reason to be making this decision."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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