Up against an end of year deadline, the Seattle City Council committee overseeing legislation required before the start of construction on the expansion of Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum made a “ratify and confirm” decision on a 55-year lease for the continued operation of the cultural center. The council’s parks committee is now ready to get around to the confirm part of the business.
Friday afternoon, the Civic Development, Public Assets, and Native Communities Committee will hear public comment on the final two pieces of legislation in the SAAM expansion process. One bill, when approved, will alter city code to allow expansion of a “non conforming” museum inside a city park. It’s a custom patch written specifically for the SAAM expansion that will also limit any future expansion.
The second ordinance will finalize the city’s new lease agreement with the Seattle Art Museum, the nonprofit entity that operates SAAM in the city-owned building on city property. In December, CHS reported on the December 31st expiration of some $6 million in Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit officials expect to utilize on the SAAM expansion project and the council’s “ratify and confirm” procedure that allowed an agreement on the lease — with strings attached. Committee chair Debora Juarez said SAM needed to return in 2018 with a better set of public benefits to accompany the 55-year deal and a better accounting of their worth.
According to details of the updated lease proposal (PDF), SAM would provide some $400,000 per year in public benefits as part of its operations of the Asian Art Museum including “free group school tours and transportation to all Seattle Public Schools” and “in-school art education programs where Museum art educators visit classrooms and provide education sessions focusing on Asian art and culture.”
Juarez and City Council President Bruce Harrell said in December they support the expansion plan but wanted to see better documented and more quantified public benefits. Though opposition community group Protect Volunteer Park questioned whether the building should be continued to be used as a home for the museum at all, Harrell said he believes the $20 million in city money earmarked for the project will ultimately be a good investment as schools continue to cut arts education.
The $54 million SAAM project has been designed to expand the 1933-built museum more than 13,000 square feet by extending the backside of the building 3,600 square feet into the park. The museum will add more display space to represent South Asia and India as well as fix infrastructure issues including a climate control system and seismic upgrades while making the museum ADA accessible. Last February, officials put the museum project back in motion after a brief pause. That month, visitors also said goodbye to SAAM before a planned two-year closure for the construction.
Following Friday’s hearing, the city council committee is planned to discuss and take action on the bills January 17th.
With city council approval, construction on the project could begin as early as this February. 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.
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