PORT ANGELES — Construction of the envisioned Field Arts & Events Hall kicked off with a roar Friday evening as an excavator lifted a ceremonial scoop of dirt to officially start the project.
The evening’s invitation-only ceremony at the center’s site at Front and Oak streets on the Port Angeles waterfront marked the occasion under a tent filled with officials, organizers, donors and friends of the performing arts center.
During the ceremony, Field Hall executive director Chris Fidler announced that construction permits had just been awarded by the city, clearing the way for site preparation and construction.
“I received an email this morning at 9:39 a.m. that reads as follows: ‘Dear Chris, your building permit has been been approved this morning,’ ” Fidler told the audience. “Hoo ya!”
Work on the $34 million, 41,000-square-foot project could begin as early as this week.
Brooke Taylor, former Clallam County Superior Court judge and president of the board overseeing Field Hall, said the permit issuance was wonderful milestone, one that he hadn’t even known about himself.
“That’s the best news I could could possibly get. It makes my whole day,” Taylor said. “I’m tempted to just throw my notes away and sit down and applaud the rest of the speakers.”
Taylor said that until Friday, most of the project’s financial support had come from private donations and bequeathments. He added that it was time for the community to get involved.
“Tonight is the official start of what we call the public portion of our capital campaign,” he said. “Up until now, it’s been pretty much silent and you haven’t heard much about it. That does not mean for a minute that we’re going to stop exploring every possible avenue for additional funding — state, federal, county, city, private foundations — all the things we’ve been working on for the last two years.”
Taylor said the project was now at the point of expanding its fundraising horizons.
“We are going to change our focus to reaching out to this community,” he said. “I think it’s time for the entire community to embrace the mission of the Port Angeles Waterfront Center Project, and specifically, the Field Hall.
“That mission is to create a home for arts and events that brings people together and strengthens our community. Very simple, very broad, very powerful.”
The event was followed by a public reception and fundraising kickoff at nearby Barhop Brewing and Artisan Pizza.
Construction on the glass-walled Field Hall is scheduled to be finished by the spring or summer of 2021.
Taylor said the project’s leadership is determined to make the center happen as advertised.
“I can promise you this,” he said. “No. 1, the Field Hall will be built, it will be completed, it will be on time and on budget.
“No. 2, there will be hundreds of donors to support this project. Some small, some large and everything in between, and every dollar is welcome.”
“And finally, all of those who have invested their time and treasure, and their families, are going be the true owners of this building. And think that’s a very powerful legacy.”
Taylor said all the work would be worth it and that the result would be a long-ranging asset to Port Angeles.
“The end result is going to be an iconic structure,” he said. “It’s going be something we can all be proud of.”
The two-story events hall will include the 500-seat Morris Auditorium, named after the late Donna M. Morris, who bequeathed the initial $9 million for design, construction and maintenance of a performing arts center in Port Angeles when she died in 2014.
The waterfront site will also contain a marine discovery center housing the the Feiro Marine Life Center and national marine sanctuary facilities, and a longhouse activities building assembled by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
The discovery center and longhouse will be built after the arts and events hall is completed.
Tribal Chairwoman Francis Charles said construction of a longhouse would be a tremendous opportunity for outreach and education about native history and culture.
“We’ve been very fortunate to work with all of you as partners,” Charles said. “And having the opportunity to collaborate and join forces to better what we see as our homelands as well as your homelands.
“Being able to collaborate and partner, and having the ability to work with one another and be united, is very humbling for all of us.”
The 1.6- acre Field Hall parcel was purchased with Dorothy Field’s $1.43 million donation.