Sequim council hears plan to upgrade Guy Cole Convention Center

SEQUIM — Mayor Ken Hays and Sequim events planner Pat Johansen describe the 30-year-old Guy Cole Convention Center at Carrie Blake Park as a building with great potential for serving as an anchor for locally grown food expositions and other community events.

But they say the 8,000-square-foot facility is underused because it sorely needs an interior and exterior face-lift.

Hays, a Sequim architect, and Johansen on Monday night presented to the City Council rough building plans for the center.

Hays estimated renovations would cost $360,000.

They would include a main meeting hall with tables for up to 300, a new performance stage with a modern sound system, a smaller conference room for 20 to 30 people with wireless Internet connectivity, as well as office space and a remodeled kitchen brought up to building code requirements.

Hays called for finishing the project for a “soft opening” by September 2013.

A majority of the council members said they support the proposal, but it was not voted upon since it was presented only as a discussion item, not an action item.

Hays asked other City Council members to consider putting “skin in the game” to the tune of $60,000, while trusting that interested community residents and business owners would donate the rest in dollar donations and in-kind labor.

“Consider our opportunity to use our enhanced facilities for the Sequim Balloon Festival, the Irrigation Festival, the Lavender Festival and the potential rebirth of the chamber’s Incredible Edible Festival,” Hays said.

“All of these events will establish traditions that are invaluable community strengths and tourism magnets.”

In a memo to the council, the mayor said the center “lacks appeal and up-to-date amenities and is underutilized and under­marketed.

“Right now, the center is neither a landmark nor a preferred venue,” he said.

“It is often a venue of last resort for local organizations, business groups and tourism efforts.”

The most logical first “taxpayer” donor should be lodging tax funds, the mayor said.

“This is a totally appropriate effort for tourism funds; in fact, nothing we have done in the past is more in sync with the legislative intent of those funds,” Hays said.

“There are Rural Development U.S. Department of Agriculture grants that would fit our needs as well. The Clallam County Opportunity Fund is another logical resource.”

Hays said the council has identified the convention and community center as a priority over the past two years.

Upgrading the convention center leads that list.

“As the city of Sequim evolves and grows as the cultural, economic and civic focus of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, it probably should be evident that our residents deserve and need some kind of community center facility,” Hays said.

City Manager Steve Burkett said the closest thing to a community center Sequim has now is outside the city at the SunLand Country Club or at 7 Cedars Casino.

The city owns the Guy Cole center, which houses about three to five events a month, with summer being the most popular season.

Routine maintenance costs the city money, Hays said, even with user fees.

“If we move forward on this project, one goal, as well as the fiscal justification for this effort, should be to take a losing proposition and turn it into a profit center for the city,” Hays said.

Johansen, a Sequim resident, said she hopes to pull a team together to raise community funds.

A name change should be considered, she said.

“We need to look at a name that has more outreach appeal.”

The Guy Cole Convention Center was built by the Lions Club. The city took ownership in 1982. Most of the physical facilities are as they were then.

The building was named after an active Lions Club member who was co-owner of Cole’s Jewelers in Sequim.

Councilmen Don Hall and Bill Huizinga said the building’s acoustics need improvements for such organizations as the Sequim City Band, which uses the nearby James Center bandshell that Hays designed.

Band leaders proposed their own improvements last year, but Hays said they were abandoned because “the building couldn’t be modified to meet their goals.”

“I think it’s a really good start,” Councilman Erik Erichsen said of the plans, adding he was intrigued with the prospect of a city partnership with community members.

Councilwoman Laura Dubois called it “a terrific plan and way past its time.”

Councilman Ted Miller said he saw the proposal as the center’s “last chance.”

“We are going to have to do something or raze it,” he said.

Hays recommended that the convention center and bandshell be managed together, possibly by a nonprofit organization that works with the city.

Hays recommended that the council and city staff review this proposal and react to its feasibility.

“If we wait until all the funds are raised before we start our work, we will be targeting completion in 2014 or later,” he said.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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