January 2018 Update

This is the January update from Protect Volunteer Park.

This month the Seattle City Council will consider, and possibly approve, the Asian Art Museum expansion project. Below we reiterate the many reasons we believe this project not to be in the public interest, particularly the proposed 55-year lease/subsidy deal which was first revealed on December 1, 2017.

What You Can Do

There are two important actions you can take now:
1. Comment at the public hearing on Friday, January 12, 2:00 PM
2. Email “council@seattle.gov” in your own words before January 12.
See below for suggested talking points.

You may also be interested in the January 17 (2pm) meeting of the Civic Development, Public Assets, and Native Communities Committee (new name of the parks committee) when we believe the Committee is likely to vote on the legislation to expand the museum.

About the Public Hearing

The Council will hear public input about legislation to exempt Asian Art Museum from the land use code. This hearing is on:
Friday, January 12, 2018
2:00 PM
Council Chambers, Seattle City Hall
600 4th Avenue
Comments will likely be limited to 2 minutes.
RSVP to pvpinfo@protectvolunteerpark.org to get last-minute info.

We believe that the Durkan administration has already signed the museum deal in December, anticipating retroactive Council approval. It will be void if not approved by the Council. This is a lousy deal which should not be approved without full consideration of alternatives. Seattle Art Museum (SAM) staff have sent communications organizing the project’s supporters to attend this hearing. Please come out and help show that many people have an alternative view.

Suggested Talking Points

We wrote a comment specifically for this hearing, which you can read at this link: http://protectvolunteerpark.org/land-use-comment/

For your convenience in planning your comments (or emails to council@seattle.gov), we repeat here our 16 main points of objection to this museum expansion proposal:

  • The proposed expansion is visually dominant and spoils the Olmsted Brothers’ naturalistic design of Volunteer Park. With great foresight the Olmsteds planned a landscape park to give the public the psychological benefits of being in nature, within a city they recognized as likely to become much more dense and built-up.
  • The proposal makes the museum building taller, contrary to claims by Parks Department staff (and the legislation’s misleading language about “elevation”). A wall over 49 feet tall would be placed directly in the greensward, blocking Olmsted-designed vistas.
  • We have documented that there is not enough parking available in Volunteer Park to expand the museum program. Seattle Art Museum (SAM)’s submitted parking study is inadequate, as it counted cars on two wet November days and claimed that to represent peak demand from park users.
  • Alternatives were never offered to the public, as the Parks Department’s Public Involvement Policy requires. It is not public involvement to repeatedly present one single plan, claiming it is “necessary”.
  • The proposed lease commits the City to 55 years of subsidy of one partner without the opportunity for any reconsideration. The old agreement was not a long-term commitment and could be ended by either party with 3 years notice.
  • Under the proposed lease deal, the City commits to spend $19 million immediately, plus 55 years of free rent for SAM, 55 years of subsidy payments to SAM, and take responsibility for major capital repairs to the building. Over the entire 55 years the City is to receive absolutely nothing, $0, in exchange for taking on these obligations. This deal is in blatant conflict with the public interest.
  • A fair process would consider proposals from multiple potential tenants, not just one.
  • Seattle Art Museum (SAM)’s Asian art exhibits were founded in the 1930’s when racist laws forbade people of Asian / Pacific Islander background to immigrate, own real estate, and build wealth. We would only perpetuate institutional racism by committing to an additional 55-year subsidy of SAM’s Asian museum without allowing any other organization to be considered as a potential partner.
  • SAM is not a “public museum” as referred to in the proposed development agreement. The public has no ownership of SAM’s assets, right to elect its directors, or control over its operations. SAM is a private corporation whose non-profit status requires it to be operated for an educational purpose, prior to any City subsidy.
  • The Parks Department is the wrong department to select a huge arts subsidy. Arts investments should be handled through the Office of Arts and Culture, with involvement of the Arts Commission, evaluating fairness relative to other City arts investments.
  • This investment in expanded Volunteer Park facilities violates the Parks Department’s equity goal of focusing capital improvements on underserved areas and rapidly densifying urban villages.
  • SAM has already built 8 floors of expansion space downtown with the help of a City subsidy in the form of a bond guarantee. SAM now declines to use these floors for its expansion, preferring to lease them to for-profit corporations linked to SAM’s trustees, with SAM keeping the revenue. Each of these 8 floors contains twice the space proposed to be added in Volunteer Park.
  • We take climate action by preserving green space. It is climate-harmful to build expanded facilities in public green space when suitable expansion space is already built downtown, having much better public transportation options.
  • The City’s original subsidy of the Volunteer Park museum came with an agreement that the museum be free of charge, four days per week. The proposed new agreement requires only four free days per month. The public subsidy has increased while the public benefits have been reduced.
  • SAM’s planned Asian Paintings Conservation Center at the expanded Volunteer Park museum is an industrial use, not recreational, and of no direct public benefit.
  • The proposed additions are too close to two exceptional beech trees, coming right up to the drip line and (in the case of the Park Lobby) overhanging the drip line and depriving the tree’s critical root zone of needed rainfall.

Thank you for your interest in protecting Volunteer Park.

Best regards,

The Protect Volunteer Park team