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Space Needle floats glass museum plan

City Council to consider replacing Fun Forest with artist tribute

Should the old Seattle Center Fun Forest property become a new public open space, or should it house a new paid-admission Chihuly glass museum and fenced garden?

That question is certain to surface when the Seattle City Council takes up an elaborate plan put forth by the owners of the Space Needle to build a $15 million tribute to famed glass artist Dale Chihuly. It would be filled with at least $50 million worth of glass, said Chihuly spokeswoman Janet Makela.

The plans were unveiled Tuesday at the Space Needle, where CEO Ron Sevart said the new museum would become a premier gathering space and, if operated as a for-profit venture, could generate $10 million in admission taxes over the life of the project.

But Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who leads the Parks and Seattle Center Committee, said she isn’t sure whether the proposed space is best for a museum.

That space is designated in the Seattle Center’s master plan for open space.

“We’re taking green, open space and closing it off in a very walled fashion, and people can only enter into that if they can pay,” she said. “My hope and dream would be to make the Seattle Center Seattle’s Central Park, and the more green space we give away, the less we’re going to have a Central Park.”

Bagshaw said she hasn’t seen a detailed proposal, but she wants to discuss other locations at Seattle Center.

“There’s good intentions all around, but we need to decide, is this what we want to do with our public property?” she said.

To build the museum, the Wright family, which built the Space Needle, would have to lease property from the city. They have proposed a 30-year lease, which the City Council would have to approve.

Under the plan unveiled Tuesday, the Wright family would pay for the new Chihuly glass house, which would encompass about 1 acre of the 5-acre Fun Forest that is being disbanded.

Chihuly was approached by Jeff Wright, chairman of the board of the Space Needle, about showcasing his work at the Seattle Center, and plans evolved to build a 43-foot-tall glass museum honoring the artist.

“The glass house is by far the most elaborate installation I’ve ever done,” said Chihuly. “I’m ecstatic about the Wright family contacting me.”

The project would also include a restaurant filled with pieces from Chihuly’s collection. The schematics included 3,000 square feet of retail space, but proponents said no decision has been made on whether to sell Chihuly’s work at the site.

Sevart said most of the Fun Forest space will remain public, with only a small portion used for the proposed project. “This doesn’t convert public space to private use,” he said, and construction will create 100 jobs.

He hopes to begin construction next September, when the lease on the Fun Forest expires, and wants it to open in spring 2011, just before the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

Sevart said Space Needle officials are still negotiating what it would cost to rent the space from the city, but said it would be far more money than what the city receives today for the Fun Forest.

He said the 50,000-square-foot building would be owned by the city. There would be no public funding involved.

Sevart said he didn’t know what the admission cost would be but said it would likely be $12 to $14.

The issue of whether a private for-profit museum should be built on public property is certain to surface. The Seattle Center master plan calls for the Fun Forest to be torn down to provide more open, green space, but Sevart argued that can still be done, with a smaller footprint.

He also argued it could draw more than 400,000 people a year to the Seattle Center.

Schematic drawings for the project were presented to Seattle’s 10-member design commission for review in November. The commission, which serves as an advisory board to the City Council and the mayor, approved the concept and made recommendations on how it could be improved.

But commission President Mary Johnston, an architect, stressed that the commission was not endorsing the project as the best use of the public space. The decision on whether to allow the space to be used as a display for Chihuly’s work ultimately belongs to the council and the mayor, she said. Should they approve the concept, the commission would recommend how that should be done.


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