Northwind Arts Center’s move likely to inspire other shifts in Port Townsend
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Northwind Arts Center Executive Director Michael D’Alessandro and board chair Jeanette Best inspect the new downtown Port Townsend space the gallery hopes to take over in October. — Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — If the Northwind Arts Center is successful in moving to a larger space downtown, a chain-reaction could ensue that affects arts, business, government and public bus transportation.

The board of the nonprofit Northwind Arts Center, which has displayed and sold regional art at 2409 Jefferson Street for 12 years, signed a lease-purchase agreement for the lower floor of the Waterman & Katz Building at 701 Water St., last week.

The lease for the space — which at 3,361 square feet is about a third larger than the center’s present location — is for six months.

That sets the arts center a deadline for a decision about buying the space, renovating it and moving in, board member Judy Drechsler said.

Moving depends on the success of a capital campaign, also started last week, that aims to raise $345,000 to buy and refurbish the new space.

“If we can raise the money, we have first dibs on the purchase,” Drechsler said.

“If we can’t, we can cancel.”

The center’s move could begin a chain reaction in which the city of Port Townsend opens a new Visitor Information Center in the current Northwind space and Jefferson Transit buys the present visitor center at 440 12th St., adjacent to the Haines Place Park and Ride, according to City Administrator David Timmons.

Proceeds from the sale of the visitor center would go to renovating the present Northwind space to house visitor center activities, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and a development center that would provide a clearinghouse for new businesses, Timmons said.

The new visitor center would have more space, a better location, more parking and provide a better welcome to both tourists and businesses, he added.

The city also has applied for a state Department of Transportation grant for sidewalk repair.

The final piece would be to install a Russell Jacqua sculpture on a triangle of land at the intersection of Jefferson Street and Sims Way.

Timmons said Willene Jaqua, the sculptor’s widow, has promised the sculpture to the city.

The new locations would be improvements for all, say those involved.

The Visitor Information Center would be on a “can’t miss” path to downtown while the previously isolated Northwind gallery would be at the epicenter of the town’s arts activity.

“The location gets a lot of foot traffic and will allow us to better showcase artists and have a greater presence during the monthly art walk,” said Michael D’Alessandro, the center’s new executive director.

The arts center is not only a venue for visual art exhibitions, but also hosts poetry readings and workshops.

“We will use the space to hold workshops and poetry readings and will have enough space that we will have seats for everybody,” said Jeanette Best, Northwind board president.

“Right now our events are standing-room-only.”

The lease-purchase agreement is for only the bottom floor and does not affect the six privately owned condos on the second and third floors.

The new Northwind would occupy space that last housed Ancestral Spirits Gallery, which closed in 2012.

The rear portion of the bottom floor housed Puget Sound Energy before the Jefferson County Public Utility District took over electrical service in 2013.

The purchase price of the combined space is $295,000, far less than the nearly $600,000 assessment on file at the county auditor’s office, and will require about $50,000 in renovations, D’Alessandro said.

This includes connecting the back and front portions by removing a bathroom to create a connecting hallway.

The space has 16-foot ceilings and so is well-suited for the display of larger pieces, but the outer brick walls may need to be modified or covered for those displays, D’Alessandro said.

During the lease period, the center will have some displays and put on fundraising events, Drechsler said.

The move probably would be in the fall, hopefully in time for the Oct. 4 Art Walk, D’Alessandro said, with the center closing for about a week during the move.

The timing fits with the city’s preference. Timmons said that he doesn’t want to move the Visitor Information Center during the summer season.

The proposed move and capital campaign are among D’Alessandro’s first tasks as the center’s first hired executive director.

D’Ales­sandro, who also owns the Bedouin Books press, began working 20 hours a week for the center on May 15, thanks to an anonymous $30,000 donation.

If the capital campaign falls short, Northwind may operate out of the downtown location until a purchase can be arranged, D’Alessandro said.

“Part of the motivation for this move was the desire to own rather than rent,” he said.

“Owning eliminates the risk of increasing rents downtown, which has caused many businesses to move or close.”

Help can be provided in two ways: by donation or by pledges.

Donations will stay with the center whether it moves or not.

Pledges will not be called in until the combination of donations and pledges reached $250,000 and it is certain the center will buy the new space.

Details of the capital campaign, and a pledge card, are in a brochure available by calling the gallery at 360-379-1086.

Donations can be made on the website at northwindarts.org.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 01. 2014 6:52PM
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