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Friday, August 18, 2006

Details on 8/16 MOHAI Presentation, Including Wawona Discussion

Alice Winship, a long-time volunteer at Northwest Seaport, heard the entire presentation by the Museum of History & Industry on Wednesday and detailed it in an e-mail to NWS volunteers, including details on Wawona. I could not have done a better reporting job. I'm posting her report here, with her permission. She can be reached at

The last item on the agenda was a presentation by MOHAI. Leonard Garfield and others from MOHAI presented a draft of a resolution to the committee. This resolution is not yet in final form. Council committee members will work on the resolution with MOHAI before it goes to the Council for a vote.

MOHAI is in need of a new location, since its present building may be eliminated by the widening of 520. MOHAI said this was not just a move from necessity, but an opportunity to transform MOHAI by expanding their scope and becoming a leader in partnership with other heritage organizations. They were enthusiastic about partnerships with other organizations at South Lake Union. They believe that the synergy of heritage organizations at South Lake Union can make it a regional attraction, the ‘Seattle Center of Heritage.’

Peter Steinbrueck urged an emphasis on maritime heritage, but also noted that South Lake Union was the first Boeing site. MOHAI pointed out that the Armory location was the site of the Denny Timber Mill. MOHAI’s exhibits would not be limited to maritime heritage, but maritime heritage would be a major focus. Leonard Garfield said, “Seattle’s story began on the water. To not take advantage of that at that site would be an incredible missed opportunity, which we won’t allow.”

Leonard Garfield also said, “We’ve got to make sure over the next year or two as we plan for those stories and those opportunities that we incorporate the community and build the community input into developing that, including people who have a passion for this area’s history as you do.” (Responding to Peter Steinbrueck.)

There was a discussion of costs. In 2004, an estimate of $11 million was given for turning the building into a community center. Two and three-quarter million are currently being spent on roof repairs and seismic upgrades. MOHAI’s estimate is $26 million for 2009. The higher price is partly due to inflation, and also includes a museum-quality HVAC system and public access to all four floors. Most areas would be open to the public, due to the public value of the location, so there would be a need for some offsite storage and office space. The building is about the same size as MOHAI’s present building, but could hold more exhibits due to its central design. Part of the first floor would have an open zone and community meeting areas. MOHAI also mentioned that the park plan included a placeholder for another building, which they hoped to operate with CWB as an auditorium for programs.

Richard Conlin had several questions about costs. His concern was to be sure that MOHAI was going to go forward with this site, and that MOHAI was confident they could raise the money. MOHAI had previously purchased a downtown site with the aid of the City, and has now decided to go with the South Lake Union location instead. Councilmembers said they had not been enthusiastic about the downtown site, but wanted to be sure that MOHAI was not going to change their mind about the SLU site. MOHAI responded that they had received enthusiastic support from all sides for the move to South Lake Union, which helped convince them of its feasibility.

Peter Steinbrueck had some requests for revision of the resolution. He requested a review of the Maritime Heritage Task Force recommendations that identified South Lake Union as a prime location for a maritime heritage center, to look for ways to honor and respond to these recommendations. He also requested the addition of a provision to consider installation of the historic schooner Wawona on the site as a permanent exhibit, as part of MOHAI’s exhibitory, with the understanding that MOHAI would become the ‘adoptive parent.’ He requested a study of the costs and feasibility of installing Wawona as a permanent on-land exhibit at South Lake Union.

Peter Steinbrueck also said, “What we want is authenticity here. We don’t want fru-fru and we don’t want beautification without value and meaning and authenticity.” He urged flexibility when coordinating MOHAI’s efforts with the park planning that has already occurred.

Your comments, additions or observations are welcome!


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