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Originally published Friday, April 29, 2011 at 3:12 PM

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Chihuly exhibit will invigorate Seattle Center

The Seattle City Council takes an important step toward revitalizing Seattle Center with the Dale Chihuly glass exhibition. In the end, after much process, this is a good deal for the long-term health of Seattle Center.

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At long last, and with requisite Seattle process, the Seattle City Council has taken a big step toward upgrading Seattle Center, one that will enhance the center's reputation locally, nationally and internationally.

The Space Needle Corp. will redevelop the southern portion of the old Fun Forest amusement park and replace it with a Dale Chihuly glass exhibition, glass house and garden. These will open a year from now, as part of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said it well: "Seattle will have another world-class attraction and Seattle Center will be further invigorated ... "

Chihuly is a leader of modern glass art and his exhibition will attract thousands of new visitors. That's thousands of people paying admission to the glass show, buying food, parking, buying stuff. All of which will give the center a much-needed energy jolt and money to support other good things on center grounds, like some nonprofits struggling to make rent.

The Fun Forest had run into hard times and the center had reduced the rent twice, with the most recent payment being $170,000 annually. For the first five years of its contract, the Space Needle Corp. will pay $350,000 a year in rent, a number that increases to $500,000 if the lease is extended an additional five years. In the second five years, the center also reaps a percentage of glass sales.

The very good news about the lease is it occurs in five-year segments. If something goes wrong, the center can decide not to renew. If something goes right, the center can re-up.

Space Needle owners have pledged to donate $1 million to fund a children's playground north of the glass exhibit. The playground will not be ready for next year's festivities but will be a lasting legacy of a deal that makes many Seattleites squeamish.

Part of the long-term center plan also includes redeveloping the Northwest rooms as the home of the popular, nonprofit KEXP radio.

Seattle Center means many things to different people. It is a cherished gathering space, but it needs an upgrade. Chihuly glass art provides a new compelling attraction. This reasonable deal will benefit the center by pulling in more visitors and breathing new life into a beloved Seattle institution.

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