Park advocates raised legitimate concerns about the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s expansion in Volunteer Park. The project was improved and should be allowed to proceed.
SEATTLE park land is more precious than ever as the city’s population surges ahead.
So park advocates rightly questioned the Seattle Art Museum’s proposal to remodel and expand the Asian Art Museum, a historic landmark in Volunteer Park.
Concerns about the expansion taking too much of the Olmsted-designed park are legitimate. They mirror concerns across the city about private facilities creeping into precious public spaces, and growth far outpacing the creation of new parks.
Engagement by neighbors and activists brought more transparency to the museum project and led to an improved design with a smaller footprint.
Now this project should be allowed to proceed. Then it should be celebrated as a valuable addition to the region’s cultural offerings.
When complete in 2019, the museum will be improved with an atrium facing the park and new classroom and gathering areas. Also planned is new space to display South Asian art, alongside the strong collection of Japanese and Chinese art.
Publicly funded projects in Seattle have a bad habit of blowing past initial budget promises, and the museum is no exception.
A critically needed, $9 million upgrade of the museum’s ancient heating system helped sell voters on a 2008 parks levy.
Now, as groundbreaking approaches, it has morphed into a $50 million makeover of much of the building.
Mayor Ed Murray — who lives not far from the museum, and whose husband manages city park developments — increased the city’s contribution to $19 million last year. Private support and tax credits for historic buildings are providing the rest.
City officials should grant remaining approvals needed to complete this exceptional project. The original home of the Seattle Art Museum, the facility was donated to the city in the 1930s and is designated a national historic place.
This requires artful legislation. The city authorized the development, but a zoning exception must be approved by the City Council. This must be done in a way that doesn’t create a precedent for developing new private facilities on public parkland.
Passionate discussion around the museum project highlighted how much residents treasure their parks, which are essential to a city’s character and quality of life.
The museum might have faced less resistance if residents — who own the parks and fund their maintenance — had more faith that their assets were being preserved and their money well spent.
Seattle officials now have a rare opportunity.
They can simultaneously approve the project and reassure their park-loving constituents, so everyone can enjoy this special museum and its wonderful art.