JUNE 2017

We the undersigned, a diverse group of Discovery Park advocates, have recently been made aware of a new and potentially existential threat to Discovery Park, concerning enough to warrant us to come together and make a joint statement on why this project would be so injurious to the long-term integrity of the Park. Although we come from a variety of backgrounds, we are all united and uncompromising in opposition to what we believe is a deeply flawed idea.

A group of citizens, led by a single individual, is making a serious proposal to build a large educational music and arts campus, the Fort Lawton Center for the Arts, within the legally protected Fort Lawton Historic District. As proposed, this facility would utilize the 8 currently vacant buildings there, to provide "year round education programs...K-12 music education, dance studios, rehearsal and master class workshops, summer camps and lodging". The plan would fully renovate and modernize all 8 buildings to provide lodging, dining, classrooms, practice and performance facilities and recording studios. They publicly state they are very serious about this idea and are intent on seeing it to completion. The full proposal can be found here:

We are strongly opposed to this proposal for the following reasons.

1) It is in direct conflict with the 1972 Discovery Park Master plan that reads: "In the years to come there will be almost irresistible pressure to carve out areas of the park in order to provide sites for various civic structures or space for special activities. There will in the future be structures and activities without number for which, it will be contended, this park can provide an “ideal site” at no cost. The pressures for those sites may constitute the greatest single threat to the park. They must be resisted with resolution. If they are not, the park will be so fragmented that it can no longer serve its central purpose."

2) It breaks with the 1986 Development Plan which states “The intent of the plan is that the nature and use of the Historic District shall be compatible with the primary role of Discovery Park - to provide an open space of quiet and tranquility.”

3) Such a music school would clearly result in increased urbanization of the Park and dramatically reduce the Historic Districts “quiet and tranquility”. Despite reassuring words about the use of shuttle buses, we do not see these as realistic for such an active music campus and feel that dramatically increased vehicular traffic into the center of the Park would be inevitable, requiring the permanent opening of Oregon Avenue, Nebraska Street and Idaho Avenue on the north campus, plus the portions of Iowa Street and Washington Avenue that are near the Chapel on the south campus. All of these streets are currently gated and locked, allowing only pedestrian access and permitted park maintenance vehicles.

4) Noise pollution is a real and constant threat to the peace and quiet of the Park and the well being of its wildlife. The sound generated by brass and percussion instruments is substantial and carries a long way, especially in the quiet environment of Discovery Park. Amplified music would be even more disruptive. Although this proposal implies that only acoustic classical music would be practiced and performed, we are concerned that even louder, amplified music would be allowed, especially given the size of performances that are being proposed.

5) The 8 historic buildings are currently intended to stand as symbols to remind us of the Park’s historic military past, and have no power, water, septic or communication lines. They were designed and built over 100 years ago when modern heating, plumbing and disabled person standards did not exist. To convert them to modern educational facilities that conform to current building codes as well as the mandates of the Federal and City Historical registries, especially with all the features and activities proposed, would be very expensive. If such expenditures were made, there would be great pressure to use the campus to its maximum capacity.

6) The proposal suggests that the City of Seattle has been derelict in its duty to preserve these buildings - that they are "crumbling" and "falling down". This is incorrect. They are structurally sound and, with the exception of some peeling paint and rare siding that needs replacement, are in good condition. The Seattle Park Department has done its job in maintaining these buildings as stipulated in the 1986 agreement. This agreement was arrived at only after extensive debate and deliberations before the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board over several days, which ranged from advocacy for restoration of the buildings for income production, to their complete removal. The decision was to maintain these 8 buildings as weather protected “Silent Sentinels” which would celebrate the 1900 era military history of Fort Lawton. We continue to believe this is the most prudent, reasonable and cost-effective way to manage these buildings.

7) This project would demand a complicated and long term commitment from the Park Department. It would require entering into a legally binding agreement with an organization (The Fort Lawton Center for the Arts) that does not currently exist, proposed by individuals with no previous experience in running such a complex educational facility. Such an arrangement would expose the City to a significant liability and attendant legal costs.

8) The authors of this proposal have stated unequivocally that they are only interested in the Historic District of Discovery Park and are not willing to consider other locations such as the former Army Reserve Center in the far northeast corner of the Park, or other reasonable options elsewhere in the City.

9) This does not appear to be an effort with citywide benefit at its core. The website suggests that this project would “help reduce the geographic isolation of Magnolia.” The majority of its backers are Magnolia residents. It seems to us, that this project is intended to primarily help Magnolia and its arts community, and does not therefore support the mission of the Park which is to serve as a

Regional Park and provide quiet open space for all of Seattle’s residents.

Finally we recognize that many do not understand the primary purpose of the Park or understand why the empty buildings in the Historic District exist at all. We recognize this would be a good time to have that discussion and would be happy to participate. Discovery Park and its open space represents a unique and invaluable asset to the citizens of Seattle, primarily by providing a place of quiet and tranquility. We believe the peace and solitude provided for by the Park far outweighs the benefits of a music campus. If such a campus were developed in the center of the Park, it would irreversibly impact both the Park’s wildlife and human visitors for generations to come.


Philip Vogelzang, coordinator of this letter and past president, Discovery Park Advisory Council (DPAC).

Peter Ker Walker, landscape architect and co-author of Discovery Park Master Plan of 1972.

Wes Uhlman, mayor of Seattle, 1970-1978.

Mike Ruby, member Friends of Fort Lawton Park, Friends of Discovery Park (FoDP) member.

Gary Gaffner, president, DPAC, member Friends of Fort Lawton Park, FoDP Board of Trustees.

Tom Palm, president emeritus, DPAC, Green Seattle Partnership (GSP) forest steward, FoDP member.

Heidi Carpine, DPAC and FoDP member

Rob Effird, DPAC member

Elaine Chuang, FoDP Board of Trustees

Will Newsom, FoDP Board of Trustees

David Sinclair, FoDP Board of Trustees

Jim McIntosh, FoDP Board of Trustees

Mason Rhoads, FoDP Board of Trustees

Julia N. Allen, Magnolia resident, FoDP member

David Hutchinson, GSP forest restoration steward, past member DPAC, past board member Seattle Audubon Society

Miller Myers, GSP restoration volunteer

Tom McArthur, GSP forest steward

John Rundall and Marian Wineman, Magnolia residents

Paul Broadhurst, Seattle landscape architect

Paul Bannick, award winning author and wildlife photographer, Magnolia resident.

Jeff Rahlmann, Discovery Park urban nature guide, Magnolia resident

Melanie Wienecke, Discovery Park urban nature guide

Matt Weatherford, Computing Director, UW Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology, FoDP

Suzanne and Timothy Harrison, Magnolia residents

Rod Brown and Catherine Conolly, Magnolia residents

Asako Hamaya, Magnolia resident

Kiyomi Morris, Discovery Park volunteer

Michele Marchi, Magnolia resident

George Lundin, Magnolia resident

Consuelo Larrabee, former FoDP member

Pete Pulliman, Green Seattle Partnership forest steward​

and more...​

"It is not something we would support ... just want to clarify."

- Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent, Jesús Aguirre

Comparative land usage foot-prints within Discovery Park

Over the years there have been numerous attempts to carve out a part of the park for special purposes. For example, early on there was a proposal to convert a large portion of the park to a golf course. This proposal was defeated at the ballot box by more than two-thirds of the vote.

Now yet another proposal exists — to install a music and arts school and performance space directly in the center of the park. The “Fort Lawton Center for the Arts” would use existing buildings which are currently intentionally kept maintained but vacant, as “silent sentinels” to the military interlude in the site’s history. The newly proposed campus’s footprint would exceed the West Point waste water treatment plant that already hangs on the side of the park along its beach.

There exists, within Discovery Park presently, facilities that are ready and capable to house arts programs, although they could not serve a dedicated center. The Discovery Park Visitor and Environmental Learning Center and The United Indians of All Tribes Foundation Daybreak Star Center already provide these amenities. These buildings physically reside in harmony with Discovery Park on the outlying periphery close to bus routes, parking, and walking or ADA access. It is contrary to the park Master Plan and the stated policy of the City to develop precious open space and wildlife habitat for a new active campus, especially when there are several other places in the region where it could be conveniently, and compatibly, located.

The authors of the Master Plan foresaw all this. As they wrote,

“In the years to come there will be almost irresistible pressure to carve out areas of the Park in order to provide sites for various civic structures or space for special activities. There will in the future be structures and activities without number for which, it will be contended; this Park can provide an 'ideal site' at no cost. The pressures for those sites may constitute the greatest single threat to the Park. They must be resisted with resolution.”

Discovery Park represents the largest city park and largest open space in a large, booming city becoming more dense by the week. There is no realistic prospect of ever adding a space of similar size inside the city should this one be whittled away by development. Although it is by no means a “pristine” wilderness, Discovery Park is dominated by undeveloped, natural space and contains several distinct ecosystem types representative of the region, from rocky tide pools to sandy beaches to moss-draped forest, to boggy wetlands, to wildflower-spangled meadow. From its highest vantage points, one can take in an unobstructed view of both local mountain ranges—the Cascades and the Olympics.

The park is especially important for lower income Seattle residents, who may not be able to easily access the large natural areas outside the city due to the expense and the need for a car. All you need to transport yourself to the park’s green and peaceful landscape is to hop the #33 bus from downtown.

As Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson wrote of Discovery Park,

“Although I meet thousands of people every year, many more are unable to visit one of our national parks. Discovery Park, and its close proximity to the heart of downtown Seattle can, and does benefit many people who want to do more than just get away from urban pressures, they want to get to the freedom of open country! This is not just a physical, psychological, or emotional need to escape from something that’s often bitter; it’s more a spiritual desire to swallow something sweet, to taste freedom, to feel that you’re a part of something ancient, yet profoundly alive.”

Discovery Park, with its stunning beauty, vistas, and topography will always inspire romanticized "what-if" ideas. It has since formal inception. This proposed Music and Arts campus is not a best use for this open space public land. Although well-meaning, the reality is that this development idea would destroy the very nature and environment its author purports to love and cherish. Seattle does not need a competing Music and Arts Center in the middle of Discovery Park. Seattle does need large natural public space, and we must protect what remains for generations to come. These passions and well-meaning intentions are better served strengthening similar and existing facilities around Seattle. Ones that are already operational and welcome the attention and help.

Thank you for your commitment to Discovery Park!

Friends of Discovery Park is a non-profit 501c3 organization registered with the Internal Revenue Service; our Federal Identification Number is 91-1409342. Friends of Discovery Park is incorporated in the State of Washington.