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HTCs Preserve, Expand Historic Seattle Museum

Published by Mark O’Meara on Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Journal cover August 2018   Download PDF

The Seattle Asian Art Museum is receiving a facelift to preserve its history, expand its footprint and bring the building up to 21st century standards. 
Located in Seattle’s Volunteer Park, the Seattle Asian Art Museum was built in partnership with the city of Seattle in 1933. “This is a great opportunity to renew the building and activate the park,” said Michael Shiosaki, director of planning and development at Seattle Parks and Recreation. “It’s been a great partnership between the Seattle Art Museum and the city.” 

While the city owns the building, the museum has been the sole tenant, operating under a long-term lease agreement. As part of the rehabilitation, the city renewed its lease with the museum for another 55 years. “It’s a chance to ensure it’s alive and well for the next 50-plus years,” said Shiosaki.

From 1933 to 1991, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) called this location home. Then SAM moved to downtown Seattle and its Asian art collection stayed in Volunteer Park to form the Seattle Asian Art Museum, under SAM’s management. 

The Art Deco building is undergoing major renovations to replace the 1930s heating system, add cooling and humidity controls to protect the museum’s art collection, install seismic upgrades, improve the loading dock, add a new freight elevator and improve ADA accessibility. 

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Image: Courtesy of LMN Architects
The Seattle Asian Art Museum is receiving a facelift to preserve its history, expand its footprint and bring the building up to 21st century standards.

While these are important upgrades to keep the museum functioning properly, that’s not all the development includes. By adding 3,290 square feet to the building’s footprint, the museum will gain close to 14,000 square feet of new essential interior space while opening the building up to the park, bringing the museum to roughly 68,000 square feet. 

The museum will feature a new 2,700-square-foot art gallery, which will allow the museum to display more art from its collections, including more South Asian art. Richard Beckerman, chief operating officer of SAM, said Seattle has a rapidly growing population from South Asia.

“The expanded gallery space enables us to show a larger variety of art collections and to present more traveling shows,” said Beckerman.

Also included in the rehabilitation will be a glass lobby to improve circulation. “This will create a more visual connection into and out of the park,” said Beckerman. 

“Through redevelopment, the museum is now [visually more] open to the east side of the park,” said Shiosaki. “It’s a marriage between architecture and landscape architecture.” 

The museum will also feature new education programming space and an updated auditorium. These spaces will be used for the museum’s numerous events, including summer camps and workshops open to the public, as well as for community meetings and gatherings.

“It’ll be great to have this extra space,” said Beckerman. “This is an important part of our longstanding commitment to the community.” 
“At U.S. Bank, we believe that the building blocks of thriving communities where all things are possible include stable employment opportunities, a home to call your own and a community connected through culture, arts, recreation and play,” said Stacie Chang, assistant vice president of U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC), which helped finance the renovation. “With this project, the Seattle Asian Art Museum will continue to provide the community with vital connections between different generations, continents and cultures for years to come.”

Construction began in February and Beckerman expects the museum to reopen in fall 2019. 

Preserving History

The development was financed, in part, by federal historic tax credits (HTCs). As such, a number of the building’s historic features were preserved. This includes refurbishing the façade and classic Art Deco design elements throughout the building, especially the ornate details in the galleries. The historic windows were retained but will be made more energy-efficient and the frosted glass on the west end of the building is being restored to clear glass. “The addition is more modern-looking which distinguishes it from the look of the old building,” said Beckerman. “It ties old and new together.”

Not only is the building a historic structure, but Volunteer Park is also on the National Register of Historic Places. As SAM was designing the expansion of the museum, it had to be sensitive to the historic trees and pathways in the surrounding Volunteer Park. In the early 1900s, Volunteer Park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers, an influential landscape architecture firm. Shiosaki said the city was very appreciative of SAM for its sensitivity in preserving the park during the redevelopment. The development will also restore historic Olmsteadian pathways, better connecting elements within the park.


U.S. Bank provided a $15 million bridge loan, a $6.5 million federal HTC equity investment and a $25,000 donation to this development. “This was done without a third-party lender,” said Chang. 

“Our team has an important existing relationship with SAM,” said Drew Hammond, assistant vice president at USBCDC. “We were eager and excited to partner with SAM again on this development. … From a HTC perspective, this is a beautiful and iconic building at the center of one of the most popular parks in Seattle.” 

Development financing also included $24.1 million in private donations.

“We are very fortunate to have strong and passionate support for the museum,” said Cindy Bolton, chief financial officer of SAM.

Development financing was rounded out with $21 million from the city of Seattle, a $1.5 million grant from the state of Washington and a $1.4 million grant from King County. Shiosaki said the city was pleased to be able to inject equity into this development to modernize the building and provide a seismic retrofit of the building. 

“Preserving a historic museum located in a park that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a great use of the federal HTC program,” said Nicolo Pinoli, partner in the Portland, Ore., office of Novogradac & Company LLP, which provided modeling and structuring services, as well as accounting support to SAM. “As a Mandarin speaker and avowed Sinophile, it was a real honor to participate in such a worthy project. Not only did this redevelopment preserve a historic structure, but it also updated the building’s aging mechanical systems and expanded the building’s footprint to allow SAM to display more of its Asian art collection for the community.” 


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