Updated Asian Art Museum lease proposal includes free visits, arts education for Seattle Public School students

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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8 thoughts on “Updated Asian Art Museum lease proposal includes free visits, arts education for Seattle Public School students

  1. I want to acknowledge that the public benefits section of this agreement has been greatly improved, and the City did a good job negotiating that. However this deal remains an enormous ripoff with the public costs much greater than the public benefits.

    At last evening’s Board of Park Commissioners meeting, staff revealed that the backlog of major maintenance is now estimated as $400 million, up from the previous estimate of $256 million (partly due to improved condition assessment data). This is a severe crisis and the Asian Art Museum proposal worsens it by making the City responsible for major maintenance, but without any income stream to support that (indeed, an expense stream is created).

    The estimated value of public benefits does now exceed the operating subsidy payments. However the City is taking on two additional very large financial obligations: free rent for SAM, and unfunded responsibility for capital maintenance.

    This is a smash and grab. Politically connected corporations can see that the park system is in huge financial trouble, and it is urgent for them to loot what they can, before Parks Dept. facilities start closing and the public catches on. This predatory deal should be opposed.

  2. P.S. I should have said *three* additional very large financial obligations: $19 million immediate spending, 55 years of free rent, and 55 years capital maintenance. The 55-year commitments allow no possibility of future reconsideration in response to financial needs. The public voted to spend only $9 million on this project in the 2008 levy. The project should be returned to the scope approved in the levy: renovation, without expansion.

    • What you and your group REALLY want is no SAAM at all in the park, and you’re grasping at straws in an effort to discredit the City and the SAM. You’ve lost this battle!….give it up and move on.

    • You are just trolling mindlessly. I have thoroughly explained my reasoning to you on this and other threads. Disagree, fine, but tbere is no reason to impute nonsensical motives to me.

  3. Protect Volunteer Park wants to renovate and improve the existing museum, not kick it out of the park as the article suggests.

    • A Capitol Hill resident on Nextdoor has been prolonging a nearly 6-month-old thread by “shooting for perfect: [a] restored, wonderful museum without taking parkland. It’s always been an option, just not one the big players wanted to sincerely explore.” He’s been badgering Seattle Art Museum* to rent space in SODO to restore artifacts instead of doing it in a small workshop on site. A small core of Capitol Hill residents clearly doesn’t want an art museum in their** park, and they’re beating their rhetorical fists on the corpse of Frederick Law Olmsted repeatedly.

      It’s over, John. Fight for something meaningful, like help for the homeless. A few square feet of the back of an ugly museum building isn’t worth your anguish and won’t hurt your property values.

      * Not really — he’s badgering people in the neighborhood to little avail
      ** Actually a city park, but because it’s in their vicinity and they’ve lived there for X years, they feel as though they own the park