Seattle Center Lease Agreement: The benefits of public process.



I took office in January 2010 and was thrilled to learn I would chair the Parks and Recreation and Seattle Center Committee.  Little did I know, at this time, that I was about to inherit a potential deal that was in the works between Seattle Center and the Space Needle.

In early March of 2010, the Space Needle held a press conference announcing its intent to develop the South Fun Forest site at Seattle Center and create a glass art exhibition featuring the work of Dale Chihuly.

From my 35 years of experience with public procurement, I realized that in earnest pursuit of developing Seattle Center, there had not been adequate public involvement for this project.  I called for a new, open and competitive public process.  Seattle Center belongs to the people of Seattle and we needed better outreach and to make sure the public would benefit from our decisions.

The Space Needle announcement also created a public outcry.  Our office received hundreds of calls and emails expressing a wide range of opinions on the matter.  In response, we held two public meetings and kicked off a year-long process that included public engagement.

In April 2010, Seattle Center issued a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) for the redevelopment of the southern portion of the former Fun Forest site. The RFP process allowed us to be very clear about what we wanted and needed in the re-development of the site. Nine proposals were received.   A committee comprised of members of the Century 21 Master Plan Committee evaluated each proposal. In July, we hosted a public meeting where the proposals were on display and people had the chance to ask questions and make comments about each project.  In September 2010, the RFP review committee recommended Center Art, LLC’s proposal to Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams.

We often joke or groan about “Seattle process.”  But, the reality is that good public process often leads to good public policy.  We have an incredible wealth of talented, resourceful and creative people who live in Seattle.  As such, some of the best ideas in local government often come from concerned citizens.  This time was no different.

KEXP's Potential New Look at Seattle Center

In this instance, improved public process led to innovative ideas for Seattle Center’s campus.  Ultimately, Seattle Center decided to combine some of the best suggestions from multiple proposals.  The result is that the campus will be the future home to both Center Art LLC’s new exhibition hall and our area’s beloved radio station, KEXP’s new studio, as well as a location for a creative playground for children.

Striking a balance between public and private interests requires the willingness and ability to negotiate with all parties involved (this could be a blog topic on its own).  It is not easy, but it is necessary.  For the lease agreement between Center Art, LLC and Seattle Center, I was glad to serve as the person who brought people together to work toward a solution on this matter.  The collaboration amongst all councilmembers, thanks in particular to my colleague Nick Licata, the Mayor’s Office, Seattle Center, the Seattle Center Advisory Commission and Center Art, LLC led to an agreement that will provide significant public benefit for years to come.

I look forward to seeing the results of our work when the new exhibition hall opens on Seattle Center’s campus in April 2012 for Seattle Center’s 50th Anniversary.

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