Fun Forest future undecided

Dec 13, 2010

The decision about what will replace the Fun Forest at Seattle Center is still up in the air. This fall, a review panel recommended converting it into an exhibition space celebrating local glass artist Dale Chihuly.

That proposal promises millions in much-needed revenue. But the backers of several other ideas haven’t given up hope.

Roger Fernandes is a a member of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe and one of the key visionaries behind a proposal to replace the video games and putt-putt golf of the Fun Forest with a Northwest Native Cultural Center.

“Right now in the core area of downtown Seattle, including the Seattle Center, there is no native cultural presence. And in a city named for a native leader, in a city that is surrounded by many tribes, it’s kind of an interesting comment.”

Fernandes says the Fun Forest Building already has the long rectangular shape of a traditional long house. His group would encase it in cedar planks, fill it with artifacts and provide opportunities for the public to interact with performers and craftsmen.

“A place where the culture is alive and presented in a way that people realize that Native culture is vibrant and still very active.”

His group has continued to meet every week and refine their plans because they've been told decisions aren't final yet. They’re working on setting up a non-profit.

“We’ve been led to believe at different meetings that there’s still time to do lobbying, to distribute materials and to add on to the initial proposal by showing more and more support from agencies and individuals in the area.” 

Other groups with ideas for the Fun Forest are doing the same thing. Mayor Mike McGinn’s office has held meetings with public radio station KEXP and a group that wants to do round-the-clock programming at the Mural Amphitheater.

All of this comes at a time when the Seattle Center is in a bit of a crisis...many of its tenants are millions behind on rent. And a scheme to remodel the food court for the 50th anniversary of the Worlds Fair just failed to draw competitive bids.

Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, who chairs the Parks Committee, is waiting to hear what comes out of the Mayor’s discussions. She doubts the Fun Forest site would go to anyone besides the Chihuly group, but thinks there may be room in the Seattle Center’s master plan for more.

“a compromise to get more than one of the ideas onto the campus.”

For example, KEXP could expand into another location such as the Northwest rooms. She’s not so sure about the Northwest Native Cultural Center, but she wants to keep an open mind.

“because promoting the Native American heritage is really critically important to us in this whole community.”

And even if the idea doesn't make it into the Seattle Center, it may have life elsewhere. The Native Cultural Center is also interested in the city’s redesigned waterfront, after the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down.