Six months after the first public meeting about the expansion and renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, residents are accusing planners of not being open and transparent with park users.
More than 60 people attended a community meeting on Saturday, Nov. 19, to weigh in on the expansion project at the museum, many calling for a design plan that would not increase the square footage of the building. The expansion would add 3,600 square feet to the footprint of the museum that would include a three-story glass-enclosed area for gallery space and educational opportunities along the east facing side of the museum.
“Our point is that we would like SAM (Seattle Art Museum) to present the alternatives that are required by public process, and they need time to go back to the drawing board to prepare some alternatives and have those commented on by the public,” one woman said.
She was one of many individuals who wanted to see alternate plans, particularly an option that did not call for expansion and the taking away of any park space. Another woman said she and her husband were married in the museum, and that she loved the facility, but felt she should have been consulted about the expansion.
Several people voiced their support for the project, saying that having a renowned and modern museum adds to the community and neighborhood, and everyone should be proud the museum wants to grow. Meetings have been held since May. Letters and emails are sent to museum members and volunteers, and informational signage is posted in front of the museum.
Another community meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The museum is expected to close in spring 2017, in order to begin removing and storing collections, equipment and furniture. Construction is planned to begin in September 2017 and last about a year. The museum would reopen in 2019, following reinstallation of collections.
An opposition group founded to protect the park and its space, Protect Volunteer Park was present, collecting signatures for a petition calling for an environmental impact study of the project. The group argues SAM is planning to improve and modernize the museum by sacrificing valuable park space.
SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom and CEO Kim Rorschach, as well as members of Seattle Parks and Recreations, said the improvements, including seismic upgrades, air conditioning and climate control, are necessary to keep the museum viable.
Upgrades are planned for the lobby, the stairways and ADA access. A major renovation is required to create space for climate control and air conditioning equipment, and to address infrastructure issues.
By modernizing the climate control, the museum will be able to accept special exhibitions and connect with more of Asia while serving the needs of museum patrons and providing educational opportunities to local students.
Attendee Gerry Conley had a different opinion, calling the move to expand the museum at the expense of park space precedent setting. He said parking and neighborhood access presents an obstacle to expanding the museum, and any increase or modernization was more appropriate downtown.
SAM operates in three facilities, most recently an expanding downtown, however, several floors are currently leased out until 2031 to repay the construction cost of the building.
Conley referred to a standing tree on the east side that he said is dying. “Do you replace it or do you think of this view, this vista you’re creating?”
Conley also held up a piece of steel pipe taken from Roanoke Park that was made by flattening the metal into a sheet and then rolling it up and welding the seam.
“This is a sample of the pipe in Roanoke Park. It happens to resemble the pipe exactly, steel pipe, in parks throughout, there’s over 400 parks, and there are 100 of them with 100-year-old irrigation,” Conley said.
The project is expected to cost $49 million, with more than $19 million coming from the city and another $20 million in private contributions. The parks and green spaces levy passed in 2008 allocated $9 million for the project but those funds were diverted when fundraising died off during the recession, but Mayor Ed Murray added back funding in the 2017-18 budget.
Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections planner Christina Ghan said there are a lot of different bodies and entities weighing in on the project, and the team has submitted its land use permit application, which is under review. In addition, the public comment period for the application runs through the end of the month.
The land use review also includes a zoning review and an environmental impact study, Ghan said.
The next meeting is scheduled for 1-2:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.