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City of Seattle

September 15, 4:43 PM click here to comment > 2


In recent newspaper reports and e-mails to members, representatives of the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) have claimed that MOHAI “will be forced to close its doors” if the City does not commit additional funding.  We don’t think MOHAI is being straight with its members or the public.

Here is the context:

Less than a year ago, MOHAI informed the City Council that the total cost of creating a new MOHAI in the Armory – including renovation of the facility, purchase of new exhibits, creation of a new endowment, and many other “soft costs” – would be $60 million.  MOHAI’s budget is linked HERE.

MOHAI has now lined up nearly $80 million in funding.  This includes $40 million of City funds, which is $25 million more than MOHAI’s budget projected.  A summary of proceeds/sources of funds to date is linked HERE.

The Mayor has not challenged any portion of the existing funding.   The current dispute between MOHAI and the City concerns whether MOHAI will receive an additional $7 million in funds from the sale of City properties.

Given that MOHAI already has $80 million — $20 million more than its own budget called for — we are skeptical of the claim that MOHAI will be forced to close if it does not receive additional money.  We have asked MOHAI to consider that many other community institutions and services are truly in jeopardy in this environment.  Rather than looking for ways to spend excess funds, MOHAI should “make it work” with existing funding. The mayor spoke to this issue last week on Seattle Channel’s Ask the Mayor. The following is a short clip on the topic:

The City Council will ultimately decide this matter.  The Mayor has advocated against allocating more funds – at least until Council has conducted a careful review of funding priorities. I have previously written about this issue on The Stranger’s SLOG, which you can read HERE.

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Posted by: Carl Marquardt


Comment from Chuck Nordhoff
Time September 16, 2010 at 10:57 pm

The statement above is factually incomplete and misleading in three respects:

(1) Most important to this discussion is a fact that the Mayor fails to mention. No new City money is required for MOHAI’s relocation to South Lake Union Park. I repeat: no new City tax dollars are going to the Armory project. In fact, if MOHAI were not renovating the Armory, the City would be forced to spend more than $20 million to bring it up to code to make it usable by the public as part of the new South Lake Union Park.

(2) Although not mentioned by the Mayor, the budget to relocate all of MOHAI’s activities from Montlake is nearly $90 million. The Mayor only talks about the $60 million cost to move the public spaces (principally, the exhibit galleries) to the former Naval Reserve Armory. But the galleries cannot function without the museum’s complementary back-of-house activities — collection storage, research library, artifact processing, staff offices, etc. — which cannot be accommodated in the Armory and must go to a separate facility. It seems disingenuous for the Mayor to focus on just a portion of the costs while looking at all of the funding sources.

(3) MOHAI has identified potential sources for more than $80 million, but has only a fraction of that money already in hand. For example, a $25 million fundraising campaign is underway, but nothing close to that amount has been raised yet (and hardly the $20 million that the Mayor claims). Given the current economic situation, MOHAI will be very fortunate to achieve its fundraising goal. Other sources are similarly uncertain.

In addition to uncertainty about the sources of funds, MOHAI also suffers from uncertainty about the date of final governmental approval of the project. The approvals are many weeks behind schedule, and the delays may have cost impacts. Over the course of years, the City Council and the Parks Department have thoroughly reviewed all aspects of the project, so there’s no reason for the Mayor to block it any longer.

MOHAI needs every dollar possible of compensation from the State for the SR-520 demolition of MOHAI’s Montlake facility, including $40 million for the building and as much as $7 million for the land. Without these and other monies, the museum’s relocation to South Lake Union Park will not be possible. The City should abide by its agreement to pass the State money through to MOHAI without any diversion or further delay.

This deal is good for both the MOHAI and the City. Today, the Council’s Parks Committee voted 6-0 in favor of it. The Mayor should end his opposition and join the supporters.

Comment from Aaron Pickus, Assistant Communications Director
Time September 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Hey Chuck,

Thank you for taking the time to weigh in on this issue and write a comment on our blog. I’ve worked with staff in our office to prepare a response. Please follow up with another comment if you have further issues you’d like to discuss, or you can email me at Please see our response below:

1) The funds at issue are proceeds from the sale of City-owned land. We recognize these are not the same as “tax dollars,” but they are general fund revenues that could otherwise be used to support City programs and services.

2) The budget that MOHAI presented and the City approved last fall was for a $60 million project, including renovation of the armory, exhibits, and soft costs. See the link above. MOHAI may need or want other facilities, but there was no agreement the City would pay for them.

3) The $20 million dollar figure is based on Mr. Garfield’s comments, as quoted in the 9/9/10 Seattle PI. The budget projected that MOHAI’s capital campaign would raise $25 million.

The Mayor has not blocked the project. He submitted legislation over two weeks ago that would distribute the $40 million dollars, which is enough for MOHAI to proceed with the Armory project. Proceeds from sale of City land will not be realized for at least a year, and so there is plenty of time to consider whether these funds should also be dedicated to MOHAI.

We appreciate MOHAI, we support the Armory project, and we want it to proceed. At the same time, we think Council should be very careful about how it spends money in this environment. Council is now considering whether to amend its prior legislation in order to dedicate land-sale proceeds to MOHAI. We have urged Council to forego this decision for the time being, but we recognize that it is ultimately their call.