PORT ANGELES — Organizers of the Port Angeles Waterfront Center have responded to community feedback by setting in motion preliminary plans for a larger-capacity downtown performance hall, center board Chairman Brooke Taylor said.
The performance hall building at Front and Oak streets would include a 200- to 400-person conference facility and banquet space, complemented by a “warming kitchen,” large enough to seat 300 for meals, Taylor said Friday.
The estimated 35,000-square-foot Oak Street facility also would be on two levels, not one as first envisioned, and would be about 40 to 45 feet high.
The downtown building height limit where the performance arts center would be located is 45 feet without a conditional use permit.
The facility’s theater would seat up to 500 people rather than the 300 to 350 that Taylor estimated in May.
Taylor said the move to a larger venue gained momentum after Taylor’s appearance at a May 10 Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where he outlined a facility with the smaller seating capacity.
“Most feedback told us that 300 to 350 seats was adequate but that we would be missing an opportunity,” Taylor said.
“We had our ear to the pavement, and we got a pretty strong response from the community. People who were supportive of the project wanted something with a little more capacity.”
Waterfront Center organizers are looking for “the sweet spot” for the volume of seating, Taylor added.
“We are trying to find that seating capacity where it is large enough to draw major performing arts groups to the community but small enough not to look empty when you have a smaller audience.”
The 1.6-acre parcel on the western edge of the downtown core also would contain two other buildings that could be connected by a common architectural theme, Taylor said: a Lower Elwha Klallam tribal facility and a combined structure housing the Feiro Marine Life Center and a chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, which is affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“They have indicated an interest in doing that,” Taylor said.
The waterfront center’s seven-member board — Dan Wilder Sr., Bill Kindler, Nathan West, Judith Morris, Karen McCormick, Dorothy Field and Taylor — agreed at a meeting Wednesday to move ahead with the conclusions reached in a feasibility study that called for expanded capacity.
“What we are telling our architect to do at this point is to do preliminary work on a theater that will have a capacity of 500 that will be divided probably with 350 seats on the main floor and 150 seats on the balcony,” Taylor said Thursday.
“The advantage to having the theater divided between floor seating and a balcony is that you can basically convert it to a 350-seat venue by simply closing off and blacking out the balcony so you have greater versatility.
Plans are to start building mid-2019 with completion toward the end of 2020.
Cost of building
Taylor’s initial estimate of $15 million to $20 million to build the performance hall “was just a ballpark estimate, and probably ill-advised, quite frankly,” he said.
“I’m not comfortable talking about those numbers until we get a little further down the road.”
The board recently hired Seattle fundraising consultant Daniel Johnson, who has experience with rural communities, Taylor said.
“We have been talking about funding and fundraising since the very first meeting our board had in January 2016,” he said.
“We are confident that we can raise the money needed to get this project done.”
Taylor said he may have a more precise project cost in January, when a concept design phase should be completed.
“By the end of that phase, there should be some artist renderings of what the Port Angeles Waterfront Center might look like,” he said.
Taylor said organizers have the advantage of the late Donna M. Morris’ $9 million bequest to the Peninsula College Foundation for the performing arts center and a $1.43 million donation from Field, a Port Angeles resident, to the college foundation to buy the parcel.
The foundation has transferred the property to the Waterfront Center. Morris’ gift will be transferred to Waterfront Center organizers as the project progresses.
“We recognize the project is ambitious,” Taylor said last week. “We also recognize that if something of this magnitude is ever going to get done, this is the opportunity to do it.”
The performance hall’s foyer area would be accessible to the public on non-performance days.
Fine arts also
“[Morris] wanted her gift to support fine arts as well as the performing arts, and specifically named the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center [as being] involved in this project,” Taylor said.
To that end, the facility will include the fine arts gallery as a component and art displays on various walls where appropriate.
Taylor said the gallery will be “traditional,” with visual arts, paintings, ceramics and sculpture.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Council discussed getting involved with the Waterfront Center at a meeting Wednesday, tribal CEO Michael Peters said Thursday.
“The council, by consensus, confirmed the idea of fleshing out what the partnership should be,” Peters said. “That includes assisting [in] and probably building a portion of the complex.”
Next, tribal officials will meet with the Waterfront Center’s architect.
“We are looking at a facility and a program that would focus on Salish art, both performance and the physical art,” Peters said. “What that is and how it would happen is still to be determined.
“In a very simple sense, we have used the word ‘longhouse.’ Time will tell if that will actually be what it depicts.”
Peters said the tribe hopes to be a “full partner” in the Waterfront Center, in the sense that space occupied by the tribe could be available to Feiro and the Sanctuary foundation, and that Feiro classrooms, for example, could be available to the tribe.
“We feel the Salish Sea, as represented through NOAA and Feiro, and the arts and culture that is part of the performing arts group, mesh perfectly with the tribal history and culture of the area and the place that all of this is being built on,” Peters said.
Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles is “excited and interested in what their plans are as they are with us,” she said Thursday in a text message.
“We look forward to [continuing] to sit at the table with them as the planning continues ahead.”
Taylor said he expected the performance hall will complement rather than compete with downtown businessman Jake Oppelt’s efforts to renovate the Lincoln Theater, located roughly five blocks away on the eastern edge of the downtown core, into a performance venue.
The two facilities will cater to different audiences, Taylor said.
“It just makes the whole downtown scene that much more vibrant, with that many opportunities for entertainment not only for local residents but visitors who will visit the downtown during the summer.”
Oppelt, who also is running for City Council, said Friday he “absolutely” agrees with Taylor.
He said the renovation of the Lincoln is ongoing.
“We’re going through the engineering process and getting ready for permitting,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.