With eye toward 2019 reopening, officials break ground on $54M overhaul of Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum

A ceremonial lifting of paving stones where construction will add an accessibility enhancements as part of the $54 million overhaul of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park

Leaders of the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation project commemorated the official start of construction with a ground breaking ceremony Tuesday afternoon. Parks and Recreation officials gave remarks and encouraged the community to continue their support of the $54 million renovation.

The prospect of neglecting the museum’s need for upgrades “would have been terrible and it would have been terrible for Capitol Hill,” said capital campaign co-chair Mimi Gardner Gates who greeted the audience. “Great cities are great because citizens step forward and make a difference.”

Seattle Art Museum is just is just $3 million shy of their $33 million commitment to the project and encouraging community support to reach the total.

The audience of about 50 bristled in the windy weather, gathered beneath a canopy to hear speeches from capital campaign co-chairs Gates and Gursharan Sidhu.

Superintendent of construction Jeremy Jones stood in the audience as the lineup symbolically broke ground with crowbars painted gold. It took seven people to lift two courtyard stones with golden levers for the audience in Volunteer Park.


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According to SAM CEO Kimberly Rorschach, major donors will be thanked with a display inside the museum, while plaques thanking $1,000 donors will likely be placed around the museum’s famous camel sculptures in front.

“I’m confident we will reach our goal,” said Rorschach of raising the remaining $3 million of the project cost.

With a new 55-year lease signed for the City of Seattle property promising wider access for the city’s schools, the expansion and overhaul project will utilize $6 million in Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits while other funding comes from a 2014 city ordinance establishing that the city would commit $11 million to help fund the restoration of the building, Due to inflation, in 2016 the city committed an additional $5 million to the project. The lease agreement states that the Seattle Art Museum will be responsible for $33 million of the cost of the $54 million project, including the $6 million in tax credits which will be deducted from the Seattle Art Museum’s yearly taxes.

LNM Architects began the design for the SAAM additions more than a decade ago. Carl Gould originally designed the late art deco style museum in 1933, now a Seattle and National Historic Landmark.

“There’s a lot of emotion attached to the building for the city as a whole,” said LNM partner Sam Miller, who described the process from his end as “pretty intense.”

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.

Rain drove the party inside to Franz chocolates and Starbucks coffee as soon as the peaceful half-hour ceremony was finished.

With construction now underway, the inside of the museum is unrecognizable with plywood and plastic sheeting covering the floors and walls of the foyer.

SAAM’s is among the top ten collections of Japanese art in the United States, according to Gates, “it’s a jewel.”

The SAM Director Emerita favors the Japanese Deer Scroll, “a spectacular 17th century scroll painted in gold and silver with poetry written in beautiful Japanese calligraphy,” she said.

Earlier this month, BN Builders and park officials outlined the construction process at the Miller Community Center to a group of community members, some of whom argued that disruption of the park’s ecosystem was inevitable.

According to a Seattle Police officer posted in front of the museum Tuesday afternoon, his presence was a safeguard in case anybody attempted to disturb the groundbreaking ceremony.

Officials say the $54-million renovation upgrading the infrastructure and seismic stability, as well as installing a climate- control system of the museum is a necessary tradeoff — the inability to bring prized exhibitions with building conditions of the 100 -year-old museum deteriorating underserves the community wanting for world-class Asian American, South Pacific and Indian art.

After the coming “14–15 months” of construction, the overhauled facility is projected to open in October 2019, when it will be open to the public 40 hours per week for 50 weeks out of the year.

Co-campaign chair Sidhu said the new SAAM will be “poised for the centuries which lie ahead of future generations.”

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7 thoughts on “With eye toward 2019 reopening, officials break ground on $54M overhaul of Volunteer Park’s Seattle Asian Art Museum

  1. Would that be Fran’s chocolates instead of Franz chocolates? Maybe it would be better to print words as they are actually spelled instead of guessing.

  2. “According to a Seattle Police officer posted in front of the museum Tuesday afternoon, his presence was a safe guard” Really? Did you actually mean to say that he was not a corrupt guard? Or did you mean his presence was a measure taken to guarantee safety?

    Words have meanings. Best to use the correct ones.

  3. It must be very frustrating to have a critical grammatical eye. Mistakes abound and each and every one must hurt. Ignorance is bliss.

  4. Can you please put a closed notice/sign under the museums satellite location signs around Capitol Hill/Seattle for visitors who are not aware that it is being renovated til 2019?? Thanks