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South Fun Forest Q and A

We heard a lot of questions at the March 30 public meeting on future uses of the former Fun Forest site and April 1 meeting of the Parks and Seattle Center Committee of the Seattle City Council. Here we’ve attempted to answer some of them, and we hope they help people to understand the factors affecting decisions on use of the two parcels of land where the Fun Forest once resided.

Currently, what are the plans for the former Fun Forest areas?   Fun Forest Amusements, LLC, a private carnival ride and games concessionaire who has leased two parcels of land at Seattle Center since 1963, is undergoing lease termination.  The area it vacated at the end of 2009 at the north end of the Fun Forest is becoming public space, and Seattle Center is activating the 3-acre area with community attractions, including a covered outdoor stage and picnic area, planting beds, a children’s garden, basketball court and painted maze and labyrinth.

Seattle Center will issue a Request for Proposals in mid-April for future uses of the second Fun Forest parcel, which Fun Forest Amusements will vacate at the end of September this year. The 56,000 square-foot space (just under 1 ½ acres) located southeast of Center House currently contains the Fun Forest Pavilion and kiddie ride area.  The Center received a proposal from Wright Art, LLC to transform the site into indoor and outdoor exhibit areas for glass art installations created by Dale Chihuly.  The site would also house a café and retail space.  The Center and City will consider all proposals received through the RFP process to see what is in the best interest of the public and Seattle Center.

Why would Seattle Center allow a private, commercial entity on the campus?  Public-private partnerships have been the lifeblood of Seattle Center and have allowed it over the years to meet its mission of presenting a mix of program and attractions that inspire the spirit and bring our community together.

 Seattle Center must generate over 65% of its operating revenues from non-City sources, and as a result has a practice of considering opportunities as the private sector must — capitalizing on special opportunities when available – such as EMP, the transfer of Mercer Arena to the Opera and the other vendors that make their home on the campus. The communities we serve are diverse, and so the right balance is key.

How did the Wright Art proposal come to Seattle Center?   The proposed Exhibition was brought to Seattle Center by the Wright family through Wright Art LLC and Chihuly Studios, who would solely fund the substantial capital development and ongoing operations and maintenance of the space.  Discussions with the Wright family began with the concept of a short-term (one year to 18 months) exhibition.  As the dialogue evolved, the idea of a longer term project began to take shape.

The idea of a temporary, long-term exhibition was vetted in the summer and fall of 2009 with the Parks and Seattle Center Committee of the Seattle City Council and Mayor’s Office, who gave the go-ahead to pursue the proposal.  The idea was also presented for review to the Seattle Center Advisory Commission and Century 21 Committee.  The Seattle Design Commission, a citizens review board for urban design projects, reviewed conceptual designs for the exhibition in public meeting held in November 2009 and January 2010.       

How will private development of the southeast area of the Fun Forest affect public space at Seattle Center?   It won’t have an effect on public space at Seattle Center. The site of the proposed Chihuly Glass Exhibition was never public space.  It has been leased to Fun Forest Amusements, LLC, a private, family-owned company, since 1963.  What the Center gains as a result of the Fun Forest departure is three new acres of open, activated public space.

How does private development of this area relate to the Seattle Center Century 21 Master Plan?   The Master Plan presents the framework, principles and priorities for campus redevelopment over the next 20 year.  The Planning and Design Pricniples allowed for the fact that “New ideas and opportunities, which can’t be imagined or planned for now, are likely to be presented to Seattle Center sometime in the years ahead.  The Principles, as well as the specific Master Plan map, will work together as the critical tools with which to evaluate the merit of these new ideas.”  (page 34, Seattle Center Century 21 Master Plan, apdopted by the Seattle City Council, August 19, 2008.   

 There’s been a lot in the news lately about diminishing public space at Seattle Center. What is the status of open space on the campus?  Since the Master Plan was adopted in 2008, Seattle Center has implemented several projects related to open space, including:

  • Broad Street Green redevelopment creating several acres of  more functional open space
  • Seattle Center Skatepark, with public art and garden plantings (10,000 square foot)
  • Theater Commons, an inviting, green north entry and activity area under construction for completion by Memorial Day weekend in a space once occupied by a surface parking lot (1.5 acres)
  • Vacated north area of the former Fun Forest, now called Center Square (3 acres)

In addition, Seattle Center late last year negotiated an agreement with Seattle Public Schools to turn the Memorial Stadium and adjacent surface lot into green space and a play field/amphitheater, adding 10 acres of open, green space to the campus.  The agreement awaits Seattle City Council and Seattle School Board approval.

What will happen to the site if private development does not come to pass?   The rides and games will be gone by the end of September, leaving a large expanse of asphalt and a large, empty concrete brick building. Site redevelopment, trees, grass and upkeep all require funding, and currently, there is no public funding for upgrading the space or even rehabilitating it from its former uses.  Sonics settlement funding of a little less than $1 million was used to rehabilitate the north area of the Fun Forest, with little left over for putting in public amenities to activate the space.