PORT ANGELES — Work is proceeding on the Field Arts & Events Hall amid hopes for a Labor Day 2021 opening despite the impact of COVID-19, Field Center board President Brooke Taylor said Thursday.
Taylor said the coronavirus is dampening fundraising efforts for the 41,000-square-foot glass-wrapped facility and caused a state-mandated six-week work stoppage due to its spread.
The construction timeline could change if cases surge this fall, as health officials have predicted, and if Gov. Jay Inslee orders another halt, Taylor said.
Taylor gave an update on the $48.7 million project — the cornerstone of $140 million in projects planned for the downtown area — during a Kiwanis Club meeting held via Zoom.
The meeting was held virtually due to restrictions on public gatherings imposed to protect against a virus that health officials say may not have a vaccine for a year.
Work stopped at the Front Street-Oak Street site March 24 and resumed May 4 with new protocols for morning employee temperature checks and face-covering requirement, and the hiring of an on-site pandemic-safety officer, Taylor said at the meeting. Construction is proceeding with milestones in mind, Taylor said.
Nearly a million pounds of structural steel, treated to resist salt-air corrosion, will be delivered July 20 to complement the walls of the 500-seat auditorium, which are about 80 percent complete.
Taylor said framing should last until Labor Day, in time for a holiday topping-off ceremony to commemorate placement of the last truss, typically a major landmark with any project.
“We’re hoping we can do that with COVID-19 protocols in mind,” he said.
That will be followed by delivery of 79 Glulam beams, a bonded, laminated wood product made from regionally sourced Douglas fir that will frame walls facing east and fronting Port Angeles Harbor and the Strait of Juan de Fuca beyond.
“We wanted to pay some homage to the forest product industry, and we thought that was a very appropriate way to do it,” Taylor said.
Asked if the sound that issues forth in the Morris Auditorium will equal that of the renowned auditorium at Port Angeles High School, Taylor said the goal was to create a world-class performance venue in keeping with the wishes of the late Donna Morris, whose $9 million bequest provided the financial underpinning for the project.
The goal was “to get the best people money could buy,” and they did, Taylor said, hiring a Connecticut company that installed acoustics systems at the Lincoln Center and The Julliard School in New York City.
“The theater will be tunable depending on the type of music,” he said.
The performance venue-conference facility, part of the 1.6-acre, three-building Port Angeles Waterfront Center, will include a conference-banquet area, a gallery open year-round and a coffee shop, for which Waterfront Center organizers will soon be seeking a tenant, Taylor said.
The land, purchased with a $1.43 million donation from Dorothy Field, will include a facility run jointly by the Feiro Marine Life Center and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and a cultural center operated by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
Taylor said he did not know the status of those efforts.
As of February, the Field Center project had raised 70 percent of the funding needed for construction.
Construction began in October with a third of the way to go for financing because costs were going up 5 percent a year, and the contractor, M.A. Mortenson Company of Minneapolis, Minn., could not guarantee its services if the project was delayed.
“It was clear then that the project was serving as a catalyst for at least seven other projects in the downtown area,” Taylor added.
Among them, he cited multi-use Anian Shores across Front Street, which would provide parking for the Waterfront Center, as well as a new downtown hotel planned by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, major renovations planned by the Red Lion Hotel and a makeover for The Landing mall.
Taylor said Waterfront Center organizers may have to obtain bridge financing of “several million” dollars, incurring the project’s first debt.
“The biggest problem we have, as you can imagine, is [that the] COVID-19 atmosphere is just a killer for fundraising, and it’s impacting projects all over the country,” he said.
Taylor said upcoming fundraising efforts will include selling naming rights for the Glulam pillars and selling auditorium seats.
But the usual public roll-out plea for money that would otherwise be delivered at, say, a breakfast event, is out of the question with COVID-19’s nagging presence, Taylor said in a later interview.
“We really have to get creative on that,” he said.
Taylor said project organizers have not considered how they will plan for events next year, when challenges may remain for venues such as performing arts centers that rely on group gatherings for survival.
“We all know it’s going to be a new normal,” he said.
“There will be new things we have to do operationally that we probably wouldn’t have had to without this pandemic.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].