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Federal Way awards Knutzen theater's management contract to Centerstage

Cindy Ducich, president of Centerstage Theatre, addresses the Federal Way City Council on April 7. - Andy Hobbs/The Mirror
Cindy Ducich, president of Centerstage Theatre, addresses the Federal Way City Council on April 7.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/The Mirror

Amid controversy and passionate speeches, the Federal Way City Council awarded Centerstage Theatre the management of Knutzen Family Theatre.

The vote was unanimous to grant Centerstage the management. A contract will be worked out within the next 30 days.

Dozens showed up to speak at the April 7 meeting, many in support of Alan Bryce and Centerstage. A few in the dance community were worried about continuing their ballet productions at a Knutzen Theatre run by Centerstage.

"(Aria and 9th Avenue Dance) would seriously reconsider relocating," owner Christina Vandenberg said in a letter. "Our past dealings with (Centerstage's) director leaves me with grave concerns."

However, the majority of speakers showed support of the local theater group.

"I am for Centerstage," said Tom Butterworth, an actor from Seattle. "Don't touch Centerstage — expand them."

Voting and concerns

Last fall, the council asked for proposals to manage the Knutzen Theatre, which the city previously had managed. Two theater groups submitted management proposals to the city: Centerstage and Tacoma Musical Playhouse (TMP).

At Tuesday's meeting, Several city council members expressed concerns about Centerstage's ability to manage the theater.

Council member Linda Kochmar was concerned over Centerstage's financial plan — and the fact that Centerstage currently owes the city nearly $25,000 in back rent.

"I don't know how you are going to make the financials work," she said.

Some council members also stated that the TMP proposal, which was withdrawn March 30, was the better option.

"TMP was light years ahead of Centerstage," council member Dini Duclos said. "But a city should never be in the business of running a commercial business."

Council member Mike Park also agreed that Centerstage had been outscored by TMP.

"Centerstage did not score over TMP in any category," he said.

Council member Jim Ferrell had a different opinion. He thought Centerstage was his first choice and had proved its commitment to the city over the years.

"I don't want the record to show that we chose Centerstage because they were the last man standing," Ferrell said. "The manner in which TMP withdrew was unfortunate and a swipe at Bryce's passion."

The council agreed that by allowing Centerstage to manage the Knutzen, it could potentially save the city about $60,000 a year and, it is hoped, bring in more art to fill the theater year-round.

Background

Federal Way has owned the property since purchasing the 12-acre Dumas Bay Center site in 1993 from the Sisters of the Visitation Monastery.

At 8,100 square feet, Knutzen Family Theatre is a 234-seat theater that houses productions as well as meetings, conferences and events. The theater was built in 1998 for $2.2 million. It is named after the Knutzen family, who are longtime Federal Way residents and donors.

The facility is mainly used by Centerstage Theatre, Knutzen Family Theatre Workshop, Aria Dance Company and Ninth Avenue School of Dance. There is also a recital space, which can hold up to 70 people.

Two theater groups submitted management proposals to the city: Centerstage and Tacoma Musical Playhouse.

A four-member panel was selected to read the written proposals and participate in the oral interview.

Criteria for the proposals included project approach, financial feasibility and cost effectiveness, key staff and experience.

The four-person panel agreed that in both the written proposal and oral interview, Tacoma Musical Playhouse was the preferred choice for taking over management of the Knutzen.

The committee was comprised of Charlie Rathbun, cultural arts program manager and member of 4Culture; Laurie Rose, cultural arts manager for Auburn; Heidi Horton, financial analyst for Federal Way; and Mary Faber, recreation and cultural services superintendent for Federal Way.

However, a city council subcommittee, who heard the staff report on the panels findings, as well as speeches by both Alan Bryce of Centerstage and Jon Douglas Rake of TMP, and voted to recommend that Centerstage be given the contract by a vote of 2-1.

Shortly thereafter, however, TMP withdrew its proposal, citing an inability to work with Centerstage. TMP instead put its support behind the city to continue management of the theater.

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