Performing arts center planning continues

A consultant spent three days in the Tri-Cities last week talking with local arts groups and officials about what they want in a performing arts center, and a few themes emerged.

“Almost everyone said they want a place with great acoustics,” said Steven Wiley, chairman of the Arts Center Task Force, which brought in the consultant.

“And it’s got to be something that’s self-sustaining and also accessible, meaning (groups) will be able to book it,” Wiley said.

The consultant, James Baudoin from Theatre Collaborative, is working on a report that will be the foundation of a business plan for a midsized, community-oriented performing and visual arts center.

The task force hopes to begin construction within about three years. The facility could have 800 seats, plus space for displaying artwork.

The Vista Field redevelopment in Kennewick is the preferred location. The Port of Kennewick owns the former airport and has plans to turn it into a mixed-use development with residential, commercial, office and entertainment space.

An agreement to build the facility there isn’t in place, but port officials are open to the idea.

Wiley has said that the consultant’s work will give the task force a proposal to take to port leaders.

The report is expected to be done in about a month.

Meanwhile, the Arts Center Task Force also is starting to organize a committee to work on a long-range vision for performing arts and entertainment facilities in the Tri-Cities. The idea is to gather representatives from entities such as local city governments and Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities, Wiley said.

“We’ll need to survey what the different entities want. We’re basically going to start a dialogue,” he said.

A performing arts center long has been needed in the community, local arts advocates say. Currently, groups must scramble for performance space in church and school facilities.

The Tri-Cities Regional Public Facilities District considered taking on a performing arts center project, but decided to go after an aquatics center instead. It sent a sales tax measure to the ballot in Richland, Pasco and Kennewick in 2013, but the measure failed at the ballot box.

The district’s board now is working with an existing community group — comprised of representatives from the four cities, two counties, local ports and other entities — with the goal of eventually settling on a project road map. Whether that will include a performing arts center remains to be seen.

Don Britain, president of the public facilities district board and mayor pro tem of Kennewick, said the regional group must pick a project with the broadest community support.

Wiley said his group will “engage anyone who wants to help us.”

The Arts Center Task Force plans to pay for the community-oriented performing and visual arts facility through fundraising and grants.

The facility will meet the acute need, Wiley said, but a larger performing arts center — with perhaps triple the number of seats — still is envisioned in the long term.

Wiley said happy with the progress made so far. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm from the performance and visual arts community,” he said.

The consultant still can take input while preparing the report. The contact is midcolumbiapac@gmail.com.