Space Needle owners roll out new Chihuly proposal for Seattle Center
In a second attempt to sell the city and the public on a Dale Chihuly glass exhibit at Seattle Center, the Space Needle Corp. is proposing to add an art-inspired playground for kids and develop a partnership to bring more art to Seattle Public Schools.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In a second attempt to sell the city and the public on a Dale Chihuly glass exhibit at Seattle Center, the Space Needle Corp. is proposing to add a free, art-inspired playground for kids and a free field trip to the exhibit for every eighth-grader in the Seattle school district.
The corporation also stressed the financial benefit of choosing the glass exhibit over eight other proposals for the 1 ½-acre site just south of the monorail station. The Chihuly exhibit needs no public investment and would return $24 million over 20 years to the city in lease money and taxes, according to the proposal released Thursday.
Among the eight competing ideas for the site are two proposals for more open space, a Native American cultural center and a new studio for the nonprofit radio station KEXP.
Chihuly faced criticism from some City Council members and the public this spring when his company unveiled the proposed exhibit, an idea it had quietly been working on for more than a year. At public meetings, some people questioned whether a private business should be able to use the Center, which is publicly owned. Some were critical of adding a paid-admission venue, and others felt a glass exhibit would not be a good place for kids.
The new Chihuly proposal seeks to address some of those concerns. The proposal includes a letter of support from Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson for a plan to develop an eighth-grade science and art curriculum about glass that would culminate with a field trip to the exhibit, all funded by the Space Needle Corp.
Space Needle CEO Ron Sevart said the company would pay Seattle teachers to write the curriculum, and the district could decide how extensive it should be. He said he thought it would be a couple of days of instruction before and after students' field trip to the exhibit.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the Parks and Seattle Center Committee, thinks the public should have free access to its own property at Seattle Center. On the other hand, she said, the Center has to make money.
"That's the balance," she said. "It sounds like a really good start. It sounds like they listened to us."
Critics of the proposal also complained that Chihuly would have complete creative control over the space and that it really should be open to other glass artists. The new proposal doesn't budge on that point: The exhibit would be all Chihuly, described by some as "the world's premier glass artist."
Much of the design of the proposed building is the same. The 44,000-square-foot exhibit would display a number of Chihuly pieces, which his company says would be valued at more than $50 million. An outdoor garden would have glass art among plantings and be surrounded by a fence that would allow people to view it without paying admission. Inside, there would be a 2,300-square-foot gift shop and a cafe.
Chihuly has a following that will be a draw, Sevart said. "People will get on a plane to fly here to see this exhibit, and when they're done, they're going to want to see what else is in this area in terms of glass," Sevart said.
Sevart and Chihuly staffers added that they also would support local arts organizations such as the ArtsFund and Chihuly-founded Pilchuck Glass School, and once a year for one week it would show pieces created by artists from the Pratt Fine Arts Center, an art school in the Central District. Pratt students would get free one-year passes to the exhibit, and the Chihuly museum would help publicize and host Pratt events.
The proposal also says Seattle residents would get a discount on admission to the new exhibit. Previously, supporters said admission would be between $12 and $15.
The exhibit would also create 225 jobs, not counting temporary jobs created during construction.
As part of the deal, the Wright family proposes spending $2 million to fund and maintain an "Art Playground" somewhere else on the Seattle Center campus. They would invite local artists to design playground equipment inspired by Seattle Center or the 1962 World's Fair that was held there. They would select four or five winners, build their designs and maintain the structures for 20 years, according to the proposal.
If the glass exhibit is not chosen for the Fun Forest site, Sevart said the Space Needle is not interested in building a Chihuly exhibit elsewhere in town.
"We started knowing that (the Fun Forest site) was going to be vacated, and we tried to solve that issue. And so we haven't thought about this someplace else. This is the area we're trying to improve," he said.
The other proposals for the site:
• Local radio station KEXP wants to move its studio to the space, play free concerts and use a landscaped area around the studio to introduce people to new music. The nonprofit station, known for playing a diverse mix of music and publicizing new artists, wrote in its proposal that it has a $1.8 million cash reserve and no debt. The KEXP proposal included drawings of a sleek redesign of the Fun Forest pavilion building, surrounded by grass and a stage area with a DJ booth.
• The Museum of the Mysteries, on Capitol Hill, wants to build an expanded museum of Seattle history and legends. The small museum estimates that, when expanded into the pavilion building, it could draw 500,000 visitors a year.
• The Fun Forest wants to continue its operations, paying the same $250,000-a-year lease. "Although the Fun Forest is not part of the long-range vision of the Century 21 Committee, we would very much like to remain a part of Seattle Center for one year, three years or for as many years as the city and the people of Seattle choose," the proposal said.
Half the Fun Forest site has been vacated. The rest is scheduled to be gone by the fall.
• The Seattle Center Foundation wants to redevelop the commercial kiosk on the site.
• The Friends of the Green at Seattle Center proposes an active green space, paid for through philanthropy or city money.
• Northwest Native Cultural Center Initiative proposed an education exhibit about Seattle's Native American culture and history.
• A group called Think<>Activate wrote a proposal to create an "open platform" at the space, with outdoor rooms and space for "an aesthetic, meaningful, delightful, thought-provoking, and functional community open space." The group, which includes local architects, wrote that it could team up with KEXP or another proposer.
• Another local man wrote a four-page letter that is less of a proposal than an appeal urging Seattle Center to consider architectural continuity with the rest of the campus.
A selection committee made up of members of the Century 21 Committee, which wrote Seattle Center's 2008 master plan, will recommend a winning proposal to Mayor Mike McGinn by the end of the summer. Any proposal would then require approval from the Seattle City Council.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com
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