As you approach Northwood School from 40th Street for the public dedication and open house from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, imagine a building with approximately the same 40th Street frontage as Northwood plunked down on Mercerdale Park, between the Farmers Insurance building and the skate park.
Northwood School’s façade facing 40th Street is 300 feet long and 30 feet high. The proposed Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA) building’s facade facing Mercerdale Park lawn is almost as long — 270 feet (measured from the scale drawing on MICA’s website), and even higher — 35 feet (according to the architect). For another comparison, the Farmers Insurance façade on 77th Street is just 182 feet long — MICA’s façade would be 88 feet longer. And MICA, at 38,000 square feet, would be almost half the square footage of Northwood School (77,000 square feet).
As I collected signatures for the petition to put the Protect Our Parks initiative on the November ballot, many residents were under the mistaken impression that MICA would simply replace the Recycling Center. But MICA would dominate Mercerdale Park.
And major hurdles remain: Where will patrons park? Why is the wetland buffer reduced from 50 to 25 feet for this project? Will the projected annual MICA deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars be met by city taxpayers if MICA annual fundraising falls short? Should public funds be used to support building and operating a privately owned and operated facility? How much business will the proposed MICA café drain from our Town Center restaurants? Is including a bar in a facility in our park desirable, especially when the facility is frequented by children? Will groups renting spaces in MICA decrease room rentals/income at the Mercer Island Community Center, increasing the $300,000-plus annual deficit at the Community Center? Why doesn’t the City Council enforce the agreement made with the school system to return the Recycling Center, when no longer in use, to parkland?
And the big question underlying all these: Why doesn’t MICA prioritize purchasing private land for building their facility and leave public parkland open and green for all citizens and for future generations?