With City Council set to pave way for construction, Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion planned to finally begin

Now with a price tag of around $54 million, the planned expansion and overhaul of the 84-year-old Seattle Asian Art Museum has been more methodical and procedural than its critics contended as they unsuccessfully tried to halt the project over the summer. Believe it or not, there is yet another important step in the process.

Thursday morning, the Seattle City Council’s Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries, and Waterfront Committee will take up two pieces of legislation to pave the way for construction on the project to finally begin in 2018 — a year after the museum closed to prepare for the work last February.

With city council approval of the two bills, SAAM should return in full glory — with 13,000 more square feet of space and with important climate control system and seismic upgrades — by October 2019.

The first bill pounds out a new development agreement and lease between Seattle Parks and the nonprofit SAAM. The second would update city code to allow the construction project on a museum inside a city park — technically a “non-comforming” use under current law.

“The museum is a city-owned building that is operated by the Seattle Art Museum under a lease agreement with they city, and its renovation and expansion will provide for its continued use as a public museum reflecting Asia’s rich cultures,” a formal “Satisfaction of Conditions” letter from city finance director Glen Lee about the expansion project reads.


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In addition to the development agreement which will include public requirements for how SAAM will be operated, the council committee must sign off on a new 55-year lease that will “allow SAAM to master lease the building to a Tax Credit Entity in order to qualify for the historic tax credits needed to support the renovation of the building,” according to the council’s fiscal analysis of the project.

Lee’s letter documents the funding recipe that will be utilized to pay for the project:

The council committee will also sign-off on what “public benefits” should be required to accompany the museum-friendly agreement:

Meanwhile, the second bill will open the way for modifying city code to allow the expansion of a museum in a city park — just in case this ever comes up again.

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6 thoughts on “With City Council set to pave way for construction, Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion planned to finally begin

  1. Here is Protect Volunteer Park’s comment for the Council about the zoning exception:

    http://protectvolunteerpark.org/comment-zoning-bill/

    We are reviewing the proposed lease agreement and working on a comment on that also. Check our City Council page for additional commentary, plus updates on the Council’s process and ways to get involved:

    http://protectvolunteerpark.org/citycouncil/

    This is a 55 year agreement with no escape clause (unlike the original agreement which either party could end with 3 years notice). The Seattle public is asked to commit to make escalating cash payments to SAM annually from the parks budget, plus an initial $19 million in payments to SAM from capital funds, plus take responsibility for major capital repairs to the building. SAM is to handle routine maintenance but not pay any rent for using our building. We do not believe this deal is fair for the public. It is surprising that some people are eager to sign on the dotted line without a “Seattle process” to consider this handout of City funds and historic parklands to a private corporation.

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