Seeds for arts center prepare to sprout


The Mirror

About 30 arts enthusiasts met April 19 to discuss the establishment of a performing arts center in Federal Way.

The idea is not a new one to the city.

An interest in such a facility has been present for nearly 16 years, when the Federal Way Arts Commission sponsored a feasibility study, said Jeanne Burbidge, a city council member and former arts commission member. However, the project was part of a larger endeavor at the time and nobody made an effort to build a performing arts center, she said.

That has now changed.

Federal Way features several successful performing arts groups such as the Federal Way Symphony, Centerstage Theater Arts Conservatory and Showstoppers Dance Group. The city also boasts several schools that practice and teach the arts, but has no large space versatile enough for performances. The Knutzen Family Theatre is the largest performance space in Federal Way and seats 234 people.

Looking at other communities

The meeting on April 19 was the second of its kind focused on establishing a performing arts center.

City Manager Neal Beets and Joann Piquette, an art enthusiast and former Federal Way Arts Commission member, arranged the meeting. However, the group vying for the performing arts center is independent from the city.

Pam Smith, director of the Auburn Performing Arts Center, and Charmaine Baker, former leader of Renton High School and Civic Theater Fundraising Organization, spoke of their experiences in designing and running performing arts centers in their communities.

The women advised the audience to consider how a center in Federal Way would be funded and who would use the facility. Both women told the audience not to expect a performing arts center to make a profit from its operations.

“It’s not going to make money for you. Be prepared for that,” Baker said.

A performing arts center does not and will never sustain itself on its own earned revenue, Smith said. The women advised considering a partnership with the Federal Way School District.

If such an agreement is established, it could be similar to the arrangements the performing arts centers in Auburn and Renton have with their respective school districts, Piquette said.

The school districts pay for the majority of the centers’ operating costs in return for priority use of the facilities. Students use the centers during daytime hours. Nighttime and weekend hours are left open for public booking.

The Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center hosts more than 300 performances annually, but it would not make enough revenue from outside bookings alone to operate without the school district, Baker said.

Baker and Smith advised the audience to consider how best to accommodate local arts groups.

For example, a large stage would be needed for orchestra performances. A spring-loaded floor would be needed if the center were to be used for dance-related functions.

“I want to see a facility that isn’t going to be standing empty, ever,” Piquette said.

Possible locations for a performing arts center include Celebration Park as well as downtown areas such as the AMC Theater site on 20th Avenue South and a site near 28th Avenue South and Truman High School, among others, Beets said.

Collaborating with the school district in funding and designing a center would be ideal, but not absolutely necessary to successfully build a performing arts center, Burbidge said.

The feasibility study determined that a 1,000-foot theater with a smaller theater for live drama as well as space for parking would require at least 4 to 5 acres, she said.

The site near Truman High School is between 4 and 5 acres, and the Federal Way School District has demonstrated an interest in donating the land for a performing arts center, Burbidge said.

Details of a collaboration with the school district have not been fully discussed. District officials will be invited to future meetings.

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