As Capitol Hill’s Seattle Asian Art Museum welcomes hundreds of visitors this weekend for a last round of free tours before closing its doors to make ready for a multiyear construction project, none will know exactly when the park’s cultural center will reopen and what shape a planned overhaul and expansion to the 84-year-old building will take.
As visitors get a last chance to enjoy Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi, or Terratopia: The Chinese Landscape in Painting and Film, and Ai Weiwei: Colored Vases, officials have yet to work out a perspective that moves the project forward.
CHS first reported in August 2016 on the $49 million plan to overhaul the infrastructure of the 1933-built museum, including a much-needed climate control system, seismic upgrades, as well as making the facility ADA accessible — and expanding the museum more than 13,000 square feet by extending the backside of the building 3,600 square feet into the park to add more display space. Its that last part — those 3,600 square feet — that has put the project on “pause” as officials work to address concerns about a City of Seattle development trading building space for green space.
Parks and museum officials could not publicly release that “pause” before the start of the long-planned closure that will follow this weekend’s free days for patrons to get their fill before what will be a more than two years of construction.
The museum’s intricate and valuable collections will next be moved to storage or to temporary new homes — some of the museum’s works will be on display at other sites and at the downtown Seattle Art Museum during the closure. When the overhauled, expanded, and refreshed Seattle Asian Art Museum will reopen is still being planned for 2019 — but the date is more and more up in the air.
Officials were unable to announce a refined plan for the project this week despite another update from superintendent Jesus Aguirre to the Seattle Parks board Thursday night. Friday morning, the project in the historic art deco-era building also went through another round of refinement with a city landmarks committee.
Like the King County youth jail project, and the SPD North Precinct project, it might be time for intervention and guidance from the city’s executive. Mayor Ed Murray has yet to weigh in on the SAAM expansion but the project is undoubtedly on his radar. For one, he lives blocks from the park. And, two, the city official at last week’s parks board and landmarks meetings on hand to answer questions about the SAAM project? Murray’s husband, first gentleman Michael Shiosaki.
For now, the free weekend has come — and will likely go — without an announcement of any plan for moving forward. “Keep checking. We’ll have an update soon,” a parks department representative told CHS.
UPDATE 9:05 AM: We’re told that Shiosaki’s update Friday included what one museum representative described to CHS as an “un-pausing” of the project. For now, it sounds like there is some hope this final weekend of a plan to get the construction project on track. We’ll have more soon.
UPDATE 2/27/17: Confirmation from Seattle Parks: