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Arts center in Federal Way: The hunt for a few good ideas

Federal Way staff and council members sought inspiration for a performance, cultural and conference facility when they ventured to Skagit Valley.

They and arts enthusiasts took a day-trip March 6 to view McIntyre Hall, a performance and conference center in Mt. Vernon, Wash.

Attendees hoped to learn how Federal Way may be able to replicate the hall and its successes. McIntyre's governing body, operating structure and ability to meet the community's needs were of interest to the visitors.

The hall is located on the Skagit Valley College campus. It was designed by LMN Architects — the same firm that assisted C.H. Johnson Consulting with Federal Way's 2008 performing arts center feasibility study. The school's students, community arts groups, regional and national performers, civic groups and businesses all utilize the facility. A lobby featuring a moving wall (allowing for conference meetings) and a tiered 651-seat performance hall (with the ability to serve various forms of art) are among the hall's offerings.

McIntyre Hall is in its third year of operation. It is owned by the Skagit Regional Public Facilities District. This is a county organization board with independent taxing authority. The hall is managed by the college.

In its first year, about 21,000 patrons visited the facility, said Nida Tautvydas, McIntyre Hall executive director. In 2008, the hall had approximately 58,000 visitors and held 240 events, she said.

"It really is the community gathering place," Tautvydas said. "It's the community's living room."

Funding the arts

Nearly every space, including the hall's seats, are named after individuals who contributed money toward the performance and conference center.

Jack and Shirley McIntyre provided a $6 million donation. The Skagit Regional Public Facilities District financed another $9 million in revenue bonds. An additional $3 million-plus was donated by businesses and individuals. The total cost to construct McIntyre Hall was just over $18 million.

As the hall's popularity grows, the amount of its annual subsidy drops. In its first year, the hall's operating budget was subsidized about 70 percent ($320,000) by the public facilities district and other funding sources, Tautvydas said.

Now, only 30 percent of the operating budget is subsidized, she said.

"We are very much in a healthy place for a non-profit organization," Tautvydas said.

Much of what the hall offers is provided by minimal staff and several volunteers. Arts groups that rent the hall often provide their own technicians and ushers.

Federal Way City Manager Neal Beets said he especially liked McIntyre's ability to host conference meetings. However, Beets was disappointed the hall needs to physically expand to accommodate the number of clients wanting to use that space. Federal Way would need a space larger than McIntyre's 350-seat area, he said.

Arts enthusiasts were impressed with the facility's acoustics and multi-functional dressing rooms and lobby. More than one visitor joked they wished to take the performance center home to Federal Way with them.

Federal Way's turn

In January, the city council decided that if it moves forward with constructing a performing arts center, then the facility will serve as a cultural and conference center too. The council now has until June 2011 to designate how to use $500,000 from the state Legislature, awarded in 2008. The state requires the funding to go toward pre-construction work for land on which the center will be located.

The city council has yet to select a site for an arts, cultural and conference center. The council and city staff are considering several locations. Those locations include parcels the school district and private owners have offered to donate. Federal Way's facility is estimated to cost about $35 million, assuming the land is donated.

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