Mayor Bruce Harrell’s office maintains that the mayor did not know the identity of the donor who offered to fund a children’s playground at Seattle’s gay nude beach, Denny Blaine Park, during his two meetings with that donor, including one meeting that happened on the day after the Seattle Parks Department announced the death of the playground proposal. Harrell’s meetings raise questions about just how anonymous this anonymous donor really was, and they underscore whose voices the mayor privileges in initial conversations about public spaces. 

Additionally, The Stranger found that the parks department didn’t really highlight the full cost of the project in its public communications. 

The Mayor’s Meetings 

On Wednesday, KUOW identified the donor as Stuart Sloan, a wealthy, 80-year-old businessman and philanthropist who lives next to the park and who owns University Village. 

Strategic communications firm The Keller Group told the station that the idea to put a kid’s playground in a queer, nudist sun temple during a time of surging anti-LGBTQ groomer rhetoric came from the City, not from Sloan. “Had it happened, Stuart would not have been the anonymous donor alone,” The Keller Group told the radio station. “Several were willing to give.” 

Harrell first discussed Denny Blaine in person with Sloan at the mayor’s downtown office on November 8, 2022, before the City announced the proposal. The second meeting occurred on Sloan’s turf at University Village on Saturday, December 9, 2023, the day after the City announced it planned to kill the playground project. 

In a statement sent to The Stranger in March, Housen said the Mayor did not discuss the donation for the playground at either meeting. During the first meeting they discussed parking, trash, and graffiti at the park, and during the second meeting Harrell aimed to “update progress being made on these issues” after the park had received media attention, Housen said.

In a follow-up email Wednesday, Housen maintained that the Mayor didn’t know Sloan was the anonymous donor, despite the fact that Harrell personally saw to it to keep Sloan abreast on the status of the playground proposal. Sloan donated $550 to Harrell’s campaign in 2021, and KUOW reported Sloan had texted Harrell’s personal cell phone to complain about the beach before there was a playground plan.

KUOW reported that the mayor’s office met with Sloan several times and presented him with playground mockups and ballpark numbers at his house before making the proposals public. Housen said he was not aware of anyone else requesting a meeting or a visit to their home regarding Denny Blaine.

The City Wasn’t Exactly Clear about the Price Tag

When this story blew up in November, the City said the Denny Blaine playground would cost $550,000. Every outlet, including The Stranger, ran with that number. 

However, the City knew the proposal could cost twice as much. A Sept 25, 2023 budget breakdown document shows Sloan committed $1 million in “private funds” for a construction project that the Seattle Parks Foundation, the nonprofit that acted as the project’s manager and fiscal agent, projected to cost a little more than $1 million. 

Why cite “construction costs” instead of total costs in communications with the public? In an email, Seattle Parks Foundation President and CEO Rebecca Bear said the $550,000 related to hard costs, and the rest were “soft costs” such as the expense of project management, design, and consultants “necessary to complete a project from start to finish.”

Seattle Parks and Recreation spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said the department "...Made the judgment call to communicate the cost we knew of at the time. There was no desire to obfuscate anything from the public—the budget was still in flux."

Who Is Stuart Sloan?

According to KUOW, Sloan arrived in Seattle from SoCal in the 1960s, and he got a degree in business from the University of Washington. In 1999, Seattle Times reported he started making the big bucks on business deals in the 1980s. One of those deals involved selling QFC to Kroger when he served as chairman of the grocery chain. 

He made the news in 2022 when he and his wife, Molly Sloan, gave $78 million to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Oh, and he doesn’t like his picture taken, according to a 2013 story from the Seattle Times.

The Seattle Parks Department plans to hold a meeting about Denny Blaine tomorrow, inviting park users to comment on a proposed policy that would codify the right to be naked at the park. They’ve been working out the details with neighbors and activists with the group Friends of Denny Blaine for months, and we’ll have more on those developments this week.