In 2017, Volunteer Park’s Asian Art Museum to close for 18 months for $45M overhaul

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The art museum at the heart of Volunteer Park is preparing for its first major upgrade since it opened its doors 83 years ago. Seattle Art Museum has begun soliciting contractors for an overhaul to its Asian Art Museum that will include adding at least 7,500-square-feet of new gallery and event space, as well as an education studio and art storage space.

SAM plans to close the museum in the spring of 2017 for about 18 months until work is complete. Plans also call for replacing the heating and A/C systems, remodeling the bathrooms, accessibility upgrades, and seismic improvements.

The $28 million project was initially slated to start in 2008 but was delayed due to the financial crisis and collapse of Washington Mutual, which resulted in a “substantial” loss of revenue for the museum. A 2014 agreement approved by the City Council reactivated $11 million of city funds for the project — funds first set aside as part of the 2008 parks levy.

UPDATE: CHS asked for the budget on the project — the $28 million covers only construction. The total planned cost for the overhaul is $45 million, SAM now tells CHS.

“SAM is in the preliminary planning phase of the Asian Art Museum renovation,” a SAM spokesperson writes. “The anticipated total cost for the project is currently estimated to be in the neighborhood of $45 million, but is dependent on the final design to be revealed later this year.”

The building’s Art Deco facade will remain in tact, but some exterior work will be part of the overhaul. The landmarks protected building will also require the approval of the city’s Architectural Review Committee. A spokesperson for SAM said the museum did not have additional details as it is still working with LMN Architects on the designs.

A brief writeup of the project in a SAM newsletter said the improvements would “allow us to expand onsite conservation care of our collections and to give additional emphasis to South Asian art, a critical area for future development.”

In a document filed with the city, architects for SAM asked if the project would require a typical design review process and if the road in front on the museum is considered a public right of way. Architects also wanted clarification on the museum’s zoning as the building and park are technically zoned single family, and museum use is prohibited in such zones.

SAM will hold a series of community feedback sessions to gather input on the restoration. Capitol Hill meetings are planned for SAAM on July 16th and at the Cal Anderson Park Shelterhouse on August 20th. You can also give feedback online. (UPDATE: SAM says its meeting information online was incorrect. We have updated the meeting locations with the correct venues above.)

Volunteer Park was SAM’s first home after it was founded in 1931 with 1,926 works of art. After SAM’s downtown location opened in 1991, the Volunteer Park museum closed and reopened as the Asian Art Museum in 1994. Over the years the museum has seen a series of small improvements, but nothing on the scale of its current project. Today the museum is home to more than 24,000 works of art.

Meanwhile, the Volunteer Park Amphitheater is on its way to being torn down and built anew just a stones throw from its current location. The nonprofit Volunteer Park Trust has entered its second design phase after holding a series of community meetings.

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