Melissa Williams, executive director of the Feiro Marine Life Center, visits the site of the proposed Port Angeles Waterfront Center near Front and Oak streets in downtown Port Angeles on Wednesday. The site is being considered for a replacement of the current marine life center at Port Angeles City Pier. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Feiro Marine Life Center, planned waterfront facility to share campus

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Waterfront Center’s performing arts facility and Feiro Marine Life Center will create a shared campus on the same downtown Port Angeles Harbor property, officials from both organizations predicted.

Feiro Executive Director Melissa Williams and Waterfront Center board Chairman Brooke Taylor said Wednesday they expect Feiro’s lease to occupy part of 1.6 acres of Waterfront Center property at long-vacant First and Oak streets to be signed by April 30.

Williams and Taylor said it could be five to six years before the property is fully developed, although Taylor said the Waterfront Center, expected to also include a conference facility, could be completed sooner than Feiro.

Taylor said an agreement could be ready for approval at an April 13 board meeting on the second of two days that consultants will confer with Waterfront Center officials on the size and cost of a performing arts center-conference center.

Williams said Feiro’s lawyer is reviewing the final details of the agreement.

“I feel pretty confident we’ll get this all worked out within the next month,” she said Wednesday.

“There would really be no point in talking about it if it was not as close as you can get to being a sure thing.”

Feiro would relocate to Oak Street from an existing 3,500-square-foot building at City Pier that Feiro pays nothing for under an operating contract with the city.

Feiro would move to a larger building on 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of property on Oak Street that would accommodate larger, more engaging exhibits and could have a shared design with the Waterfront Center, Williams said.

Nathan West, city community and economic development director, said Wednesday that once Feiro vacates the site, options would include razing the building and extending the farmers market area to City Pier.

“We would do community outreach to make sure we provide the most benefit at our community pier,” West said.

Williams said the new Feiro center could join forces with the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary at the Oak Street site.

In recent years, Feiro and the sanctuary have considered creating a downtown Marine Discovery Center — most recently in a failed 2014 attempt with an Alaska developer on the same property that Feiro is closer than ever to occupying.

Sanctuary Superintendent Carol Bernthal said Wednesday that the sanctuary, which operates out of Port Angeles under the aegis of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is not planning to move out of The Landing mall next to City Pier but could add visitor and educational components to Feiro’s new Oak Street site.

“We are all exploring how that might work,” Bernthal said.

“It’s a great opportunity for Port Angeles to have both the new fine arts center and potentially the new Marine Discovery Center focusing on the wonderful marine environment in this area.”

Williams said the cost of the new facility would not exceed $15 million, with funds raised under a capital campaign that has yet to begin.

“Our main focus is on building a state-of-the-art performance hall where performers want to perform and members of our community will want to be,” Taylor said.

“But if we can leverage that to other things that will serve our community, all the better.

“Having a partner like Feiro, who has a science and an educational mission, and a water site, is probably the ideal partner, and I think we will benefit their efforts and they will benefit ours.”

The Waterfront Center project is being funded with a $9 million gift to the Peninsula College Foundation from late Port Angeles resident Donna Morris.

Morris bequeathed the sum “specifically for the design, construction and maintenance of a performing arts center in Port Angeles,” according to her will.

Dorothy Field, on the committee working with the foundation to fulfill Morris’ wishes, donated the Oak Street property for that purpose.

Taylor said Wednesday the conference center would accommodate at least 250 participants.

“The feedback from business leaders is that it’s a critical component, something the community needs,” he said.

“It seems like a perfect synergy between a performing arts center and a conference center and a building to share floor space.”

Taylor said the theater would have 300 to 700 seats, an intentionally broad range — for now.

A consultant’s market survey will determine how much seating is enough.

“If you build a 300-seat theater and you sell out every seat, it’s too small,” he said.

“If you have a if 700-seat venue and never fill it, it’s too large.

“The secret is to find that sweet spot, and it’s tricky.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.