Talk of the Town: MICA & Mercerdale Park

August 10, 2015 | by Erin Sirianni

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Music in the Park with MICA | Contributed image

Music in the Park with MICA | Contributed image

On the evening of Monday, August 3rd, Youth Theatre Northwest students Yasmeen Gaber and Madeline Dalton delivered an outstanding performance of Wicked’s duet, “For Good.” Their stage, the floor of City Hall, was an unusual one, and their audience was the seven members of the Mercer Island City Council.

Their song was a statement in support of Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) and the proposed Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA), of which YTN would be the anchor tenant. It was performed during “appearances,” the opportunity for public comment, at the City Council’s regular meeting.
Prior to their performance, Dalton said, “Youth Theatre Northwest has been our second home and it has really changed us for good, as people and performers.”

Applause is not allowed following public comments at council meetings, but the performance brought cheers and clapping from almost all attendees. Mayor Bruce Bassett conceded to allow the break in protocol and said he couldn’t recall anyone singing at a City Council meeting before.

MICA & Mercerdale Park – the debate


Proposed location of MICA at Mercerdale Park | Contributed image (click to enlarge)

It was one of many passionate appeals in support of MICA, a proposed multi-theatre venue for Mercer Island, which has recently drawn spirited debate from the community due to its planned location on the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park.

The debate has raised in volume with several Letters to the Editor published on the topic in the Mercer Island Reporter. There have also been long discussions (generating as many as 191 comments) on Mercer Island’s popular community forum, Nextdoor. The subject lines of these posts include: “MICA: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” and “MICA – the latest attack on Mercerdale.”
Plans show that MICA will be situated on approximately an acre of the northwest corner on the park where currently stands a retired recycling center, public restrooms, and a wooded area.

Taking away or giving back?

MICA, a beautiful backdrop for the Mercer Island Farmers Market | Contributed image

MICA, a backdrop for the Mercer Island Farmers Market | Contributed image

Critics of the location object to the encroachment of park space, no matter how small or to what interest.

Islander Ira Appelman didn’t mince words with his public comment at Monday’s city council meeting.

“I object to this City Council giving an expanding portion of Mercerdale park to a special interest group called MICA that can raise $25 million for a facility but can’t raise a dime to site the facility because it considers our parks free land,” he said.

Proponents of MICA, however, argue that MICA is not taking from the community but giving back to it.

John Gordon Hill, chairman of MICA’s board, also spoke at the meeting, stating: “This is a gift to the community and will provide a home for Youth Theatre Northwest, for music, for dance classes, for art classes, plays, dances, recitals, lectures, exhibitions, galas, receptions, and all manner of entertainment and culture. This is a good thing.  Mercerdale is a park for people . . . It is at its best when it is filled with people, like Mostly Music in the Park, Summer Celebration, and the Farmers Market. MICA would bring that life and vitality to the park year-round and provide a beautiful new public restroom and sinks and storage for the Farmers Market. There is no better site for MICA on the island. People who oppose MICA on this site are not saving Mercerdale Park. They are saving an abandoned recycling center.”

Finding the “soul of this city”

Critics point to other locations for MICA, such as the the property at SE 29th St and 78th Ave SE formerly of interest to property developer Hines. MICA board representatives, however, say that purchasing and building on that property will at least “double the cost of the project.” Increasingly, YTN and MICA supporters are identifying as “pro-Mercerdale MICA” supporters, as one Nextdoor commenter put it.

Lesley Bain, architect for MICA, also spoke at Monday’s meeting of her professional investment and belief in MICA’s location.

“It’s time to really thoughtfully think about what the soul of this city really is . . . For over 20 years, we’ve been looking for that plaza, that gathering space [on Mercer Island],” she said. “The successful spaces like that are all about what happens at the edges.  . . . If you were going to build a house that’s next to your backyard, you wouldn’t put a street in the middle of it. You would put your house on that space so that the living space, indoors and outdoors, works together all year round. That’s what we want to enjoy.”

Youth Theatre Northwest – a tenuous future on Mercer Island?


Lauren Bouju Davies speaks at Monday’s City Council meeting

Appearances at Monday’s meeting included over 20 people speaking (or singing) in support of MICA and two speaking against.

Perhaps most poignant of them all were the appearances by students. Sixteen-year-old islander and YTN student Lauren Bouju Davies articulated what many YTN students and supporters fear – that without MICA, the organization will leave Mercer Island.

“If MICA doesn’t get built, many children after me won’t find that home away from home and that wonderful place where they can be themselves, sing songs together, and just be nerdy and have fun,” she said. “I strongly support building MICA at Mercerdale Park . . . teenagers don’t go to parks that much, but MICA will give us a reason go there to share our music with people and sing outside in the sun . . . That is why building MICA at Mercerdale Park is a wonderful idea.”

Certainly hurdles remain, including finding parking solutions and raising $25 million to build it (of which almost $5 million has been raised so far).  What are your thoughts on the Mercer Island Center for the Arts and its proposed location in Mercerdale Park?