After years of negotiation, opposition, amendments and PowerPoint presentations, the Seattle City Council is set to vote Monday on an expansion and renovation of Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park.
Spoiler alert: On Wednesday, a Seattle City Council committee kicked a proposal to expand and renovate Seattle Asian Art Museum up the chain to a full council vote, which will happen Monday.
That might sound anticlimactic — particularly since there were more people at the committee table than spectators in the public seats, violating the old theater rule of thumb that when the people onstage outnumber the people in the audience, you cancel the show.
But for some, it was a major moment in a yearslong drama of negotiation, opposition, amendments, email threads and PowerPoint presentations. At one point, Seattle Art Museum director Kimerly Rorschach seemed to slump in her chair, wearily chuckling, “let’s just get it done.”
Wednesday’s meeting of the Civic Development, Public Assets and Native Communities Committee — chaired by Councilmember Debora Juarez — basically cleared the way for expansion of the museum in Volunteer Park.
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SAAM has said it needs to renovate and expand to improve seismic safety (to protect people) and its HVAC system (to protect ancient Asian artworks). A small but vocal opposition group called Protect Volunteer Park had opposed the renovation, particularly the proposal to expand the building’s footprint.
Before the committee meeting, a spokesman for Protect Volunteer Park, Jonathan Mark, who lives next to the park, said he felt like the decision was “a done deal … at this point, we’re kind of just bashing our heads against the wall.” Mark said the money spent on the SAAM renovation and expansion should be devoted to underfunded community centers in other neighborhoods or spent on homelessness.
The nitty-gritty details: The construction budget is $54 million. Seattle Art Museum is on the hook for $33 million (and getting $6 million in federal, historical-building tax credits), with the city investing $21 million.
After the public-comment period — during which Mark called the deal financially “onerous” for taxpayers — Councilmember M. Lorena González grilled SAM director Rorschach about bathroom accessibility, and signage to make sure people knew they could pay as little as a penny to get into the museum, and asked why “subsection C of section one to exhibit B” didn’t include the same language of a different section.
Even the dozen decision-makers on the committee seemed amused by the banality of the situation. At one point, Councilmember Juarez looked around the room and said: “I think the public watches this and doesn’t know how much work goes into how this sausage gets made.”
Finally, the committee agreed to send the zoning-change (the SAAM building is on Capitol Hill, an area zoned for single-family housing but it was built before that zoning, and grandfathered in so needs an exemption to renovate and expand) and lease proposals (for 55 years) to the full council for a vote. Nobody, including Protect Volunteer Park, expects the council to reject the SAAM expansion.
If the council approves the expansion, construction is expected to begin in February. So if you see — and hear — bulldozers in Volunteer Park this spring, you now know how that municipal sausage got made.