Urban Politics #295: The Fun Forest Site’s Future

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata. 

With assistance from my legislative aid Frank Video.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.









In late March, Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams proposed issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop all or some portion of the 1½ acre Fun Forest south area. This was in response to public reaction to a March 9th press conference announcing the Center’s partnership with the Space Needle to build a Dale Chihuly museum there.

On April 7th, I wrote to Mr. Nellams asking him to consider including certain conditions in the RFP. These conditions included:

  1. Dedicating no more than 60% of a development’s square footage to one talent or participant.
  2. For developments dedicated to only one local talent or participant, allocate no less than 40% of the development’s square footage for multiple local talents or participants.
  3. Retain as open space no less than half of the approximately 123,000 square feet made available by the vacated Fun Forest area.
  4. Allow free unrestricted public entrance for an entire day no less than once per month to all areas that otherwise require an admission fee.
  5. Include an on-going educational component by partnering with Seattle Public Schools, established after-school programs, or arts organizations.
  6. Dedicate a sufficient portion of City revenues derived from the development to fund the establishment and on-going maintenance of a children’s recreational feature incorporating a water element, thereby combining the water and children’s play area elements recommended in the 2008 Seattle Center Master Plan.

On April 23rd, the Seattle Center issued its RFP. It included public benefits such as providing multi-purpose space available, at reduced cost or free, to the wide range of non-profit cultural organizations and festivals that utilize Seattle Center throughout the year; assistance with the creation of an outdoor children’s play area currently in development on the north end of the former Fun Forest; and the periodic no cost or free periods for areas that otherwise would require an admission fee.

It also invited proposals that could cover a portion or all of their rent obligations with public benefits, as long as there was no net cost or expense to the City. Proposers were expected to fully fund all capital and operating costs of their ideas, since no City funding would be available for redevelopment of the site.

In response to the RFP guidelines, the Space Needle revised its Chihuly Museum proposal.


Ariel view of Fun Forest site, with Space Needle to the right.

In 2008, after more than 40 years of Ferris wheel rides, bumper car smashups and amusement rides seemingly fueled by the screams of youngsters, the Century 21 Committee’s master plan for the Seattle Center recommended that the 5 acres occupied by the Fun Forest would be best utilized as open space.

“Surrounding the Space Needle will be a landscape expressing the abundance and sustainability of the earth, a naturally forested area, a structured urban forest, sustainable gardens and botanical terraces.” the report proclaims. It goes on to describe “A play area, located between Center House and the EMP/SFM, evokes the World Fair’s ’World of Tomorrow’ theme, with a sculptural “jungle gym” play structure and a splash pool that converts to an outdoor ice skating rink in winter.”

In late 2007, the City Council had already voted to accept reduced rent from the Fun Forest in return for a shorter lease. The Fun Forest’s southern operations would end in 2009 instead of 2014. Its north operations would cease this Fall.

The demise of this family-run business, an original feature of the Center’s debut in 1962 as the World’s Fair, was due to an insurmountable loss of customers and revenue. As a result, rent owed the City by the Fun Forest had grown to over a million and a half dollars by 2008.


Rather than open space, the Center’s initial proposal for the Fun Forest’s south area called for a $15 million 44,000-square-foot space built as a tribute to Dale Chihuly and filled with $50 million worth of his world-renowned glass art. The Wright family, which built and owns the Space Needle, would foot the bill for the privately owned and operated facility through a newly formed company called Space Needle, LLC.

The owners expect the facility to attract more than 1,000 daily visitors paying between $12 and $15 each for admission. Space Needle, LLC would pay the City $350,000 annually the first 5 years, increasing to $500,000 annually thereafter, through a 30-year lease with the City. They estimate an additional $500,000 in annual revenue for the City would be generated by admissions tax, local sales and use tax, and business license taxes.

If realized, it would be a great financial deal for the City. However, the absence of any public process in the Center’s agreement on the Chihuly Museum raised enough questions for Mr. Nellams to solicit additional proposals.


The Center published its RFP on April 23rd. By the June 4th deadline, it had received 8 new proposals in addition to Space Needle LLC’s Chihuly proposal:

You can review the original RFP as well as each of the proposals above by visiting: http://www.seattlecenter.com/media/funforest.asp.

Bill Block, chair of the Seattle Center Advisory Commission, is leading the proposal review panel. Other panelists are also members of the Century 21 Committee and include Maria Barrientos, Trish Dziko, Tom Gerlach, Jerry Quinn Lee, Donnie Moodie, Jeff Schoenfeld and Bryce Seidl.


On Wednesday, July 7th, the review panel will host a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Center House Food Court to receive input on the proposals. The meeting will be preceded by an open house beginning at 4:30, during which attendees may talk directly with proposers to learn more about their projects. A map of the Food Court’s location can be found by visiting: http://www.seattlecenter.com/information/map.asp (see item #33, under ‘Center House’). For more information on the meeting, see the press release: http://www.seattlecenter.com/media/pr_detail.asp?GE_MsgNum=165.

Those who cannot attend the meeting may submit written comments in advance of July 7th. The panel will read a representative sample of those comments at the meeting. Written comments may be emailed or mailed to: Neal Erickson, neal.erickson@seattle.gov, Seattle Center Redevelopment, 305 Harrison Street, #109, Seattle, WA 98109.

Sometime after the July 7th public meeting, the review panel will make its recommendations to Mr. Nellams, who will then present them to Mayor Mike McGinn. If the Mayor approves the panel’s recommendations he will pass them on to the Council for final consideration.

I urge you to study all of the proposals before attending the July 7th public meeting and to express your opinion to Seattle Center representatives, the Mayor and the Council.











Citizens are directed to the following website to complete a form to send an email to the Mayor’s Office. http://www.cityofseattle.net/mayor/citizen_response.htm

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Comment from Jeny Shaw
Time March 3, 2011 at 6:57 pm

No matter how hard, let’s save the forest!

Comment from arc welders
Time April 4, 2011 at 10:33 am

Yeah .I too agree with you Jeny Shaw.

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