Asian Art Museum expansion and lease approved

As expected, this afternoon the City Council unanimously approved the proposed expansion, renovation and 55-year lease extension for the Seattle Art Museum. Mayor Durkan has recused herself from consideration of the project, so it will pass into law without her signature.

After many months of wrangling over public benefits and the vocal opposition from a small group of neighborhood and park activists, last week the proposal was voted out of committee with a recommendation for approval by the full Council.

Council member member Gonzalez offered a friendly amendment to require the Seattle Art Museum (which operates the Asian Art Museum) to actively advertise the public benefits, including the four days per month when admission is free.

Council member Juarez highlighted that the Council received a legal opinion stating that the expansion is not subject to the provisions of Initiative 42, since the art museum is a recreational use. Council member Herbold asserted that there is plenty of precedent for city property to be used for arts and recreational uses, such as the Green Lake Theater and the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center.

Council member Sawant supported the project, but expressed her concern that four free days was not enough.

This afternoon, Mayor Durkan declined to sign the bill into law, having recused herself from participating in actions related to the expansion project. However the bill becomes law even without her signature, as per the City Charter article IV, section 12:

The Mayor shall return such bill to the Council within ten (10) days after receiving it. If he or she signs the bill or returns it unsigned but without disapproval or if the time for returning the bill shall have elapsed without its return, that shall be deemed a favorable action by the Mayor and it shall become an ordinance.

Assuming the agreement isn’t challenged in court, today’s vote clears the way for the expansion project to move forward.