Mayor Mike McGinn announced a settlement last week in the fight over Seattle Center's Fun Forest site: Dale Chihuly gets a massive, permanent exhibition space next to EMP, and listener-supported radio station KEXP gets a spot on the Center grounds next to all-ages music venue The Vera Project.
Tom Mara, KEXP's executive director, was originally cool to the idea of considering other Seattle Center locations after a citizen panel favored Chihuly's Fun Forest bid over his station's. But Mara says he agreed to put KEXP in what are currently the Center's Northwest Rooms because he believes it's the best of the six options the station considered—including spaces outside the Center—for KEXP's new "complete music center."
Here's what this means for Seattle music fans:
1. The announcement is good news for KEXP fans who want to watch one of the station's many in-studio performances. The centerpiece of the station's new home is an indoor gallery and outdoor space to make the in-studio sets open to the public. KEXP has hosted more than 500 in the past year, featuring bands like Spoon and Nada Surf.
2. This could be bad news for Easy Street Records. The record store just one block from KEXP's new digs has the city's biggest stage for in-store performances, and counts on these sessions to keep the record-buying public used to visiting the brick-and-mortar retailer. Today, it's not uncommon for bands to play on the air at KEXP, then hit Easy Street or Sonic Boom for an in-store set.
KEXP's plan for the gallery isn't finalized, and they're not talking capacity, except to say "dozens and dozens." But if the in-studio performances are half as cushy and sound half as good as what the station offers during their invitation-only sets at Bumbershoot (which the station is comparing their gallery plans to), it's hard to see what the incentive would be for a band to play—or a listener to attend—an in-store at nearby Easy Street as well. "We're going to lose out on in-stores," says Easy Street owner Matt Vaughan. "I don't have the power to battle it out with them over a Mountain Goats in-store or an Elvis Costello in-store. The artist is going to have to make the choice."
Vaughan says that in an ever-changing retail landscape that is only getting more digital, record companies will be more apt to push for their artists to get time in front of KEXP's audience—global in scale, via kexp.org—than Easy Street's.
"There's going to be more attraction toward that on the business side than there will be on selling a record—CD or vinyl," Vaughan says. "I love everybody there [at KEXP], and I think that what they've been able to accomplish is staggering and I'm happy for them, and I think overall for the music community, this is pretty special. This is quite an endeavor for what at one point was a college-based nonprofit radio station, which I guess it still is. Let's just say they're walking in bigger shoes today."
3. This is good news for the all-ages Vera Project, which will soon be rubbing shoulders with KEXP. "It definitely presents some great opportunities for Vera and KEXP to work together," says Nick Turner, Vera's development director, who also DJs at KEXP.
4. The new space might include an in-house music store or cafe. Mara says both are possibilities, and that the station will spend 2011 designing the space and finalizing what to include in it. The earliest KEXP could bring their shovels to the Northwest Rooms is November 2012, and it's anyone's guess as to how long it would take the station to convert their new 28,000-square-foot space. Until they move, they will stay in their current location and pay rent to Paul Allen.
5. There will be pledge drives. KEXP doesn't know how much the project will cost, but they'll be looking to their listeners for help. Take out your wallet.
6. Expect lots of ads for Seattle Center on KEXP. If the station's worldwide reach did anything to help promote Seattle bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Fleet Foxes, Seattle Center is about to get the same treatment. KEXP will pay the Center $290,500 a year in rent. Of that, $228,000 will be paid for through on-air spots and "tags." Mara now calls the Center the station's largest patron.
"Of course, there's lots of questions as to how and why and when," Vaughan says. "But if we were to look at the history of KEXP, it continues to only get stronger, and they've made some wise choices."