As officials try to help steer a planned $49 million overhaul and expansion of Volunteer Park’s 83-year-old Seattle Asian Art Museum toward a 2019 celebration of a new life for the cultural center, residents of the wealthy neighborhoods surrounding the park have rallied to oppose the plan as it enters a key environmental review.
From protectvolunteerpark.org, a citizen-created site dedicated to stopping the expansion of the museum:
Send comment letters to PRC@seattle.gov and be sure to reference Master Use Project # 3024753. You can also enter this number at this City web site to see project documents. In commenting on an environmental review, it is helpful to reference questions from the SEPA Environmental Checklist such as: What views in the immediate vicinity would be altered or obstructed? Would the proposed project displace any existing recreational uses? What measures do you propose to avoid, minimize or mitigate for deliberate impacts to historic structures or cultural resources?
As of Monday, around twenty letter writers had answered the call. You can see some of their thoughts above. And here, below. The good news is you, too, can be a Seattle Asian Art Museum Master Use Permit commenter — your email to PRC@seattle.gov referencing project #3024753 is due by Wednesday, November 30th. UPDATE: The city has been petitioned to hold a public meeting on the land use approval. It has been scheduled for December 15th at Miller Community Center. In the meantime, you can continue to provide public comment via email or at the upcoming meeting.
CHS attended the most recent community meeting discussing the project from the Seattle Art Museum in collaboration with Seattle Parks and Recreation on November 19. The session helped answer a few questions and provided a forum for community members to voice concerns and opinions on the proposed project to extend the Asian Art Museum into Volunteer Park.
The planned fall 2017 project would expand the Asian Art Museum 3,600 square feet into the park from the east side of the 1933 historic building. The museum aims to add more display space to represent South Asia and India as well as fix infrastructure issues including a climate control system, seismic upgrades, and making the museum ADA accessible, Seattle Art Museum director Kimerly Rorschach said.
“It’s not surprising there are some people, especially in the immediate neighborhood of Volunteer Park, who don’t like the idea of any expansion into the park,” Rorschach said. “I certainly understand that and we’ve tried to be as thoughtful and as modest about that as possible in our proposal.”
The project could be part of a decade of work lined up for the park’s features as the early 20th century elements of the much-loved green space age and require costly upgrades and replacement.
The proposed SAAM project is estimated to cost $49 million. According to Rorschach, 60% will come from private donors, 20% from earned revenue like admissions, and the last 20% from their endowment fund and other sources.
UPDATE 11/30/2016: Here is how the city breaks down the budget for the project from minutes from a parks board meeting (PDF) shared with us by Jonathan in the comments, below. A 2014 agreement approved by the City Council reactivated million of city funds for the project — funds first set aside as part of the 2008 parks levy. In the just signed 2017-2018 budget, the city has allocated $14 million from those funds to go toward the project.
Some residents were concerned with increased traffic the expansion could bring. The museum currently sees an average of 80,000 visitors every year and think the expansion would increase visitors to 100,000, Rorschach said.
“Our mission is not to enrich ourselves,” Rorschach said. “We’re not trying to draw a jillion more people, we are trying to serve the audiences we have better and grow them appropriately to the size of the facility.”
Members of the community at the latest session were divided in their opinions of the expansion, with some voicing concern about the lack of input from surrounding neighbors.
Elisabeth Humphreys has been a resident in the neighborhood for five years and was concerned about the impact the expansion would have on nature in the park, she said.
“It will tear my heart out to see all the construction,” Humphreys said. “They [SAM] don’t care about the community. The way to win in this environmental situation is to build programs that help people not infrastructure that is profit-motivated.”
Other community members were open to the idea of the expansion. Bob Corwin, a neighbor in support of the project, spoke during the community event.
“There is anger a lot of anger here,” Corwin said to the crowd. “I saw from the first meeting, the museum is at a fork in the road. I’ve followed from the beginning the design process, and as far as I’m concerned, they’ve done very well in confiding with us.”
The community forums are held in high regard when planning, Rorschach said. For example, the original plan of the expansion was to include a landscape terrace area with a seating for both museum patrons and the public. However, after concern from community members that it didn’t match “the Olmsted vision,” the museum withdrew the idea.
“To some, but maybe not to all, the museum expansion is a great addition to the park,” she said.
Rorschach might be right. CHS also found two letters from neighbors supporting the project:
Maybe after Wednesday, officials will find more.
An additional meeting will take place Saturday, December 10 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum from 1:00 to 2:30 PM. For more information, check out seattleartmuseum.org/inspire.