Who owns the building? The museum building in Volunteer Park is owned by the City. Both park and building are National Historic Landmarks.
Volunteer Park was designated for its National Significance in 1976. The SAAM building was listed with Local Significance in 2016. The question is why does SAM act like the owner and has been allowed the authority to speak and decide for the park department? This is clearly a conflict of interests.
Does SAM pay rent? No SAAM is a rent-free tenant subsidized by our public dollars.
SAAM uses the building rent-free (subsidy of around $2 million/year). SAAM doesn’t pay utilities or custodial services (over $200K/year) The new expansion will increase this amount significantly. And now they want parkland too!
Is it a modest expansion? NO it is a 13,650 sq ft addition (16% more space).
SAM says it is 3,600 sq ft, but this is only one floor… they propose two 50 ft tall (equivalent to 5 stories) additions. The east side addition, placed in an urban meadow, is about two times the size of a neighborhood fire station. This is not a modest expansion!
The building has never been expanded? The museum building has already expanded 4 times. It is currently 51% larger than the 1933 original (82% larger with proposed expansion).
Every time SAAM expands we lose precious parkland. Museums are forever expanding their collections and needs. SAM tried to expand into Volunteer Park and faced community opposition in late1980s. SAM moved to its new building downtown in 1991 so it could expand, keeping Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. How many times will they want to expand in the future? (See more).
What about SAM? SAM expanded into the WAMU Tower downtown in 2006.
Within a decade SAM had outgrown its downtown building. Now SAM owns 12 floors in the now Russell Tower downtown. SAM currently occupies 4 floors and leases out 8 as commercial office space. SAM uses the lease income to pay off bonds that financed the building. City of Seattle further subsidized SAM by guaranteeing those bonds. SAM could make arrangements to move SAAM downtown if they wanted.
I thought it was a renovation? How did a renovation quietly became an expansion?
In 2008, Seattle citizens, allocated $9 million for the renovation and upgrades for the landmark building. The project didn’t proceed because of the recession. With very little public knowledge, the original $29 million renovation proposal became a $49 million renovation and expansion proposal with no real justification from SAM why the extra space is needed. (See more).
SAM says there are no alternatives, but to expand? However, the need to expand has not been justified, and alternatives have not been provided.
SAM has not considered eliminating non-critical spaces like the east side Park Lobby and Conservation Lab. Substantial usable space within the building’s existing perimeter also has not been exploited. SAAM could expand underground and save the city money in the long run. SAM has declined to consider using the 8 floors it owns in its building in downtown, which are currently leased out to a private company. SAAM’s teaching department could be relocated to a nearby house or mansion. There are other options to explore. SAAM’s expansion plans provide minimal net gain for art display. Changing the Palm Court into a lobby takes away from any display gain. Alternatives could be found to the chosen HAVC system, requiring more space. New space underground could also be made.
How come I never heard about this? Because the design process lacked the required public involvement.
There been no real public process suited for this level of taking of parkland. Seattle Parks and Recreation has a Public Involvement Policy which stipulates “early and thorough notification of proposals and projects” and “When possible, to invite the community’s ideas… rather than to present a list of options or a proposed design”.
SAM has run its own series of public meetings, which were not well-publicized or well-attended. SAM did not present any alternatives at the meetings, only SAM’s preferred plan. The City needs to halt this project and supply real alternatives like keeping the buildings foot print and get public involvement. (See more).
How will the project affect Volunteer Park? It is wrong to improve the museum by sacrificing and degrading the park.
Volunteer Park is a centerpiece of Seattle’s Olmsted park and boulevard system. The Park and the building are both designated historic landmarks. Landmark law requires the historical use to be preserved or minimally changed. The east addition would destroy precious parkland, and block the park’s sight lines. Its bulk would dominate east side of the Park. A huge beechwood tree would become half-surrounded by the building and no longer and most likely die from stress of construction and having a building so close. The construction process will further harm the trees, plants, animals, park users, neighbors, and local roads. This is a dense neighborhood around ecologically sensitive parkland, with roads in poor condition, and not well suited to a massive building project.
How does this expansion serve the public? All residents need to be able to enjoy passive, open spaces in parks and public facilities.
SAAM doesn’t guarantee additional benefits for underserved communities and does not guarantee any additional free days of admittance to the SAAM. The economically less fortunate deserve the same public amenities as the economically fortunate. The original 1933 agreement provided for public use of the museum free of charge on four days each week. This has been reduced over time to one free day per month. The museum has a “suggested admission” policy that says the admission fee is a requested donation. This does not equate to “free of charge”, even though some people may be able to get in for free. And SAAM refuses to consider refurbishing the building’s current bricked-up exterior toilets to accommodate the very tax payers from whom they are demanding $29 million from and receive free rent when the park is lacking in facilities. Why isn’t SAAM better serving Seattle citizens and underserved and lower income communities?
Doesn’t Initiative 42 stop the taking of parkland? Yes the spirit of law supports land and open space not new building. The museum is not the park thou the building is.
According to Seattle Ordinance 118477, any and all Seattle park lands are to be preserved for park use. If the use were to change (in this case to accommodate a museum building expansion), there would need to be a public hearing regarding the necessity of such change. SAAM has yet to justify the expansion. To date, they have offered no alternatives to impinging on Volunteer Park.
If SAAM were to justify the need to expand, we would support exploring alternative ways of accommodating additional square footage. One alternative a well qualified architect and engineer confirmed is to use unexcavated areas of the building’s current footprint, which, could accommodate close to 12,000 additional square feet.
How much will it cost? Why is the public paying $29million or almost 60% of the $49 million price tag for the “modest” SAAM expansion?
Has the promised $20+ million of private funds been raised by the SAM for this expansion or is this a “build it and they will come” project? And why are these funds not to be placed in City accounts but instead in to be placed in SAM’s (a private organization) accounts? Recently the SAM stated the Project “is anticipated to increase the SAM’s operating costs by an estimated $300,000-$400,000 a year” and projected SAAM “earned revenue increases do not cover the estimated additional operation costs of the Project to the SAM and result in at least an $180,000 budget deficit.” (See more).
Why is SAM, who is not the owner, been given the authority to decide what is best for our city park? This is the million dollar question we should all ask the mayor and city officials.
Clearly this is a conflict of interest. And if SAM can fully document its need for more space there should be an entirely new process, complying with City policy and inviting the public to participate in evaluating that need and considering possible solutions that fully protect Volunteer Park. This should not be a decision made by and to solely benefit the elites of Seattle. We need hold government officials accountable.
How can I help protect Volunteer Park from parkland being taken? Use our Online Action Center and get info and see sample letters etc. Sign our petition.
More information? Go to: ProtectVolunteerPark.org
Please Sign Our Petition
Site was created by Think Again SAAM & Protect Volunteer Park Team 2017