Comment (2017-12-11): Important Message from Protect Volunteer Park

From: Protect Volunteer Park
To: Mayor Jenny Durkan
Seattle City Council
Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre
Deputy Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams
Date: December 11, 2017

Important Message from Protect Volunteer Park

Dear City of Seattle decision makers,

Based on the Parks Committee meeting on December 7, we understand that the City plans to rush to sign the Asian Art Museum lease before year-end, prior to Council’s votes on the two enabling ordinances CB 119150 and CB 119146. Council will then later vote to “ratify and approve certain prior acts”.

We appeal to you not to go forward with this plan, because the public costs strongly outweigh the public benefits.

This lease is a 55-year ironclad commitment to pay operating support payments to Seattle Art Museum (SAM), lease SAM a City-owned building for zero monetary rent, and for the City to remain liable for major capital repairs to the building.

The 55-year term secures historic preservation tax credits, which require that investors get an “ownership relationship”. A 55-year commitment is considered equivalent to an ownership relationship. In other words, the City is quite literally giving away the building.

The City is to receive nothing for giving the building away. To the contrary, astoundingly, the City is to pay $19 million for renovations for the benefit of SAM, its new effective owner. The City also takes on for 55 years the duty of making operating support payments to SAM, and funding all major capital repairs to the building, including all work on its historic facade. Together with the failure to charge any monetary rent, these provisions represent a cost to the City of millions of dollars per year, over the entire 55 year term.

This unbalanced deal is not in the public interest. City government does not owe SAM anything in exchange for SAM fulfilling its mission. SAM is already required to be operated for an educational purpose, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation whose donors receive tax breaks.

City leaders say they want to resist President Trump. It takes money to resist a federal government that is threatening withdrawal of grants. This deal weakens the City by committing capital funds to a non-public purpose today, plus budgeted funds and property 55 years in advance. It drains our public wealth for generations, in exchange for a quick financial rush of $6 million in tax credits.

City leaders say they recognize the emergency of homelessness and housing unaffordability. It will take money to address this emergency. This deal greatly weakens the City’s ability to respond to true public needs.

Please do not give away historic parklands, real property, and money of present and future generations in this unfavorable deal. Instead, acknowledge that the City’s building in Volunteer Park must be managed in the public interest, and solicit financially balanced proposals from more than just one potential partner organization. The public should be involved, according to the terms of the Public Involvement Policy of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

For your convenience, here are links to more detailed comments we sent previously:
CB 119150 (lease):
CB 119146 (zoning):
Capital Spending:

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

Jonathan Mark and the other members of Protect Volunteer Park