Last night's meeting at the Seattle Center on the proposed Chihuly Museum starred nearly 400 men and women in suits, most tied to the Seattle Center, Space Needle, or slick PR firms, all hustling for a project that would benefit the tourist industry, reading their scripts beneath a striped tent-top and bulbed sign that spelled out "Whirligig."
Moderators Bill Block, Seattle Center Advisory Commission chair, and Seattle Center director Robert Nellams kicked off the meeting with a stump speech on how the Chihuly Museum would benefit the Center. City Council Members Sally Bagshaw, chair of the parks and Seattle Center committee, and Jean Godden, an alternate member of the committee, were also there to hear testimony.
But that testimony was stacked. This was more of a circus than a public meeting.
The Seattle Center brought its own public comment sign up sheet with them and the first hour of comment was wholly devoted to blowing Chihuly's glass—the audience heard from the CEO of the Space Needle, a Seattle Center Advisory Board member, Seattle Center business managers and financial officers, and a hotel concierge representative.
"This is a gift to all of us," said Lanice Gillard, a Snoqualmie art teacher who received free art supplies from Chihuly. "Chihuly's still living, I feel like we should be shouting his name." Most people had prepared comments that also read like press releases. At least three PR and lobbying firms were at the event representing Chihuly/Space Needle interests—Roger Nyhus Communications, Porter Novelli, and Century Pacific.
There were 300 "YES FOR CHIHULY AT THE NEEDLE" stickers handed out to the crowd; when I asked Tina Podlodowski (former Joe Mallahan campaign chair and sticker distributor) if this was a PR stunt, she said, "We're just big fans of Dale's and we wanted supporters here to be really visible." Another sticker dispenser said that people behind the Chihuly museum hired the PR firm Porter Novelli to make and distribute them.
Over 200 people signed up for public comment. Nearly everyone in the crowd—and at the lectern—was wearing a YES FOR CHIHULY AT THE NEEDLE sticker as they quipped. Among the gushing:
"He's the Elvis of Glass!"
"We should be down on our knees in thanks that we have such an iconic Northwest artist!"
"One of the first things tourists ask me is, 'Where can I see Dale Chihuly?'"
"This is guaranteed to be another must-see destination in Seattle!"
Less than 10 people in two hours spoke against this project. Opponents included the League of Women Voters and a group called Friends of the Green (FROG). Dorothy Hopper, a downtown resident, brought with her a petition signed by 115 neighbors opposing the project, saying that the Seattle Center should make the space green as the master plan intended. "Once open space is gone, it's gone forever," she said.
With 20 minutes left in the scheduled meeting, there were still at least 60 people signed up to comment. David Goldstein of HorsesAss was signed up to speak as a citizen but was last on the list (his coverage of last night here. In the comments he notes that he had a chance to testify at 9 p.m.). I asked him about what he wanted to say to the crowd: "Downtown has scarce resources for families with young children," he told me. "We don't have schools, basketball courts, or a lot of green space. If we want to build a healthy downtown core, we need these elements. We need to preserve this open space in walking distance—or a monorail ride—from downtown Seattle. We don't need another crappy catering space."
Meanwhile, approximately 300 people have written, called, or emailed City Hall to comment on Chihuly's gaudy wonder, according to the offices of City Council members Tom Rasmussen and Sally Bagshaw. Ninety percent of those comments have been against the project.