In Focus: Pull together for performing arts center

March 21, 2014 

Now is the time to build a performing arts center in the Mid-Columbia. The reasons this region needs one have been discussed for years and include the lack of a home for our increasingly sophisticated performing arts community and the inadequacy of the current space in the Toyota Center for local and traveling shows. Recent surveys show that a sizable percentage of the Tri-City community believe that a performing arts center would greatly enhance the community’s quality of life. If everyone wants a performing arts center, why hasn’t it happened? The truth is that building a performing arts center is one of the most challenging projects a community can undertake. Next to hospitals, performing arts centers are the most technically complex buildings to construct. Performing arts centers require sophisticated lighting and acoustical design, must be easily accessible by people and equipment and have an ambiance that enhances the experience of a live performance. This complexity makes them expensive and requires a degree of long-term planning and financial commitment that many communities find difficult to achieve. We should expect to budget between $80 million and $90 million to develop the kind of center the Mid-Columbia needs, according to public facility professionals we have consulted. Yes, it’s a big challenge. However, I believe that it is a challenge that we in the Mid-Columbia region can meet. I am the chairman of the Arts Center Task Force, a nonprofit organization that has been working to make the dream of a performing arts center in the Mid-Columbia region a reality. We have commissioned several studies that show that a performing arts center is financially viable here. Indeed, a performing arts center can have a positive local economic impact. In Oregeon, Eugene’s Hult Center, for example, adds an estimated $40 million per year to the local economy. When reviewing successful efforts to build performing arts centers by other organizations, it became clear that solely relying on local municipalities to finance these projects is no longer feasible. The cost of public facilities has increased, along with the demands placed on local taxing authorities. To meet the demands of this financial reality, a new model is arising in which private organizations partner with local government to plan and finance these large-scale projects. This way, the costs are distributed fairly between the people who most benefit from these facilities. Creating a private-public partnership to bring a performing arts center to the Tri-Cities is the approach that the Task Force is taking. We have partnered with the Mid-Columbia Symphony, Mid-Columbia Ballet, Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre and other patrons of the arts. By working with consultants experienced in creating performing arts centers, we are designing a facility that fits the needs of this community and developing realistic cost estimates. We also have been working with local officials to identify a location for this facility and exploring ways in which to finance it. Our plans are to build a center that would seat up to 2,500 people, ideally as part of the Three Rivers Convention Center complex or the Vista Field redevelopment project. Our envisioned center will support locally produced shows, performances and concerts as well as traveling Broadway shows, concerts and entertainers. Our proposed performing arts center will greatly increase the number and variety of entertainment options in the Mid-Columbia as well as significantly increase the quality of the experience. For our vision to be realized, however, we must come together and take ownership of the task. We cannot expect one of the cities or other government organizations to take the lead because each city is focused on its own priorities. A performing arts center is a priority of the people of the entire Mid-Columbia region and thus will only happen when regional civic groups all come together and take responsibility for building it. We must commit our own time and resources first and partner with local governments to make it happen. This is a model that has been successful elsewhere, and we are convinced that it will be successful here. Please join us in this effort. This way we will have a regional facility that is truly ours as citizens of the Mid-Columbia. For more information on volunteering to help or making a donation, visit our website at www. MidColumbiaPerforming ArtsCenter.com. We also encourage you to like our Facebook page. w Steven Wiley is chairman of the Arts Center Task Force.

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