By Kristi Pihl, February 1, 2015, Tri City Herald
A two-phase approach to a performing arts center will prominently feature in the vision for Kennewick’s Vista Field that will be rolled out to the public.
A smaller phase one performing arts center and a larger phase two version will be included in the draft master plan consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. created based on community input.
Members of the Tri-City arts community have embraced the idea of a first-phase venue with space for both performance and visual arts.
“I think the opportunity presented by the Vista Field development is the best opportunity historically for getting a performance arts center built,” said Steven Wiley, chairman of the Arts Center Task Force.
Port of Kennewick commissioners also have been supportive, but there hasn’t been a formal commitment by the port or by the task force, a nonprofit that aims to partner with a public agency to make a performing arts center a reality.
The draft master plan will be delivered to the port and the public later this week.
Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen told port commissioners he’s been approached by several developers interested in Vista Field. Those developers say amenities like a performing arts center are really needed to sell the project. Other amenities that could help include a plaza, park, water features and easy access to the neighboring Three Rivers Entertainment District.
From Wiley’s perspective, Vista Field would put a performing arts center in a central location and allow it to generate enough economic activity to justify building such a facility.
That’s important, because performing arts centers that succeed are public-private partnerships built to drive economic development, Wiley said. And at some point public dollars may be needed for capital or operational expenses.
But Vista Field is not the only possibility for new performing arts space.
The task force is continuing conversations with other potential partners for a performing arts center, including the city of Richland and the Kennewick Public Facilities District, Wiley said.
“Until things are signed, we are talking to everyone,” he said.
The public facilities district’s draft plan would physically connect the existing Three Rivers Convention Center to the Toyota Center by adding an exhibit hall with a stage and a food court. That exhibit hall has been identified as possible performing arts space. Those plans were drawn up prior to the current Vista Field planning effort.
The proposal to jump-start Vista Field redevelopment with a performing arts center came out of a week of interactive planning workshops that more than 180 Tri-Citians participated in.
Wiley personally finds it difficult to believe that anyone in the arts community would prefer exhibit hall space over a standalone center.
“We think that as a community, we should aspire to do something more,” he said.
While the task force has talked to Washington State University Tri-Cities and Columbia Basin College, a regional performing arts center is larger in scale than what a college can typically support, Wiley said. And college needs would and should come first at a college venue.
New performance space is on the drawing board for WSU Tri-Cities and CBC.
WSU Tri-Cities is working on a campus master plan during the next six months as part of planning for anticipated growth. Performing arts venues are among the considerations, said Jeff Dennison, the university’s director of marketing and communications.
CBC President Rich Cummins said future performance space for the community college’s needs won’t fit the needs of the public in the same way that a regional performing arts center would.
The community wants a performing arts venue for large events that will attract locals and tourists and drive commercial activity, Cummins said. CBC’s performing arts space is meant to be instructional.
“What we need at CBC is a place to train individuals for those sorts of venues,” he said.
CBC’s current theater has about 300 seats and limited gallery space, Cummins said. Future plans call for a permanent outdoor stage and concessions area for summer showcase and dinner theater, as well as a 500- to 600-seat Carnegie Hall type music venue.
Community college officials want to replace the current theater with a larger one that features more display space for the visual arts. Those plans cover about 20 years.
The task force may not have any preconceived notions, but is putting a lot of energy into developing the idea of a phase one arts center, Wiley said.
It is fundraising $150,000 to start a conceptual design and programming and business plans for a phase one center.
“We really need to have a very clear idea — size, scale, scope, expense, materials,” he said.
Architect Andrés Duany has suggested building a phase one center using materials, such as metal beams, that are part of buildings already at Vista Field. A quick concept drafted during the community workshops featured two indoor stages and one outdoors.
The task force includes the Mid-Columbia Symphony, the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers, Mid-Columbia Ballet and Mid-Columbia Musical Theatre. The arts groups are essentially homeless, without their own performance space. Richland High School’s theater gets used when the school doesn’t need it, but arts leaders say it’s mediocre for their needs.
Members of the local arts community are discussing what should go into a phase one center, such as a 500- to 800-seat performance venue, gallery space and rooms for workshops. It could help fill in current gaps in performance space and still would be used even after the full-blown version opens, Wiley said.
It has the advantage of speed, since it’s possible to pull a phase one center together in two to three years, he said.
A phase two version would feature 2,000 seats, which is the sweet spot for bringing in Broadway shows. The musical Wicked for example, is just something that can’t be brought to the Tri-Cities now because there isn’t an appropriate venue for it, Wiley said.
Being able to bring in outside performances and rock concerts really helps a performing arts center pay for itself, drives economic development and brings in visitors to spend money at area businesses, Wiley said.
The cost of the phase two center would be lower if a smaller facility is built first because it wouldn’t need to be designed to also cover the smaller performances, Wiley said.
A number of cities have started with a smaller center and added a second, larger center.
“We are following a very tried-and-true model of building a performing arts center,” Wiley said.
Making reality from dreams
What the task force needs from the port is a commitment that the port will continue working with it, Wiley said. Having land in the right location and circumstance is critical to making a performing arts center a reality.
The port can’t support the operations of a performing arts center legally or financially, and lacks the money to build one, Arntzen said. But surplus hangars and land could be possible. Private dollars would be needed to make the center happen.
At this point, the task force isn’t looking for money from the port. “The Port of Kennewick is doing exactly the right thing,” Wiley said.
Port commissioners earlier this week chewed over whether they should come out with an official position on a performing arts center at Vista Field. President Don Barnes and Commissioner Skip Novakovich agreed a center would be desirable for the community and to spark Vista Field redevelopment.
But they delayed making any decisions until Commissioner Tom Moak could have his say. Moak was absent from the commission meeting due to port business.
If the community consensus is that Vista Field is where a performing arts center should be, then the port needs to help facilitate that, Moak told the Herald. Providing land and surplus hangars could be the foundation needed for the arts community to get a center operational.
Novakovich said the port should pursue the project as far as it can, especially since there appears to be a willing partner. This is the closest the community has come to having such a center.
“I think we can make it happen far quicker and more economically” than anyone else can, he said.
For more information about the Arts Center Task Force or to donate, go to http://www.midcolumbiaperformingartscenter.com/.