Arts Center group starts fresh with new executive director

The Arts Center Task Force is restarting its efforts to build an 800-seat performing arts center in Richland under a new executive director.

Phinney Brown, whose background includes working in the wine industry and for numerous nonprofits, took the helm at the nonprofit in July.

She previously led marketing efforts for the former Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser and held leadership roles with The Rude Mechanicals, Richland Players and Columbia Basin College Summer Showcase.

Phinney Brown, arts center task force, executive director

Phinney Brown

Phinney said the group’s focus is unchanged: It intends to build a much-needed performing arts center to serve the Tri-Cities.

It previously intended to build at the Port of Kennewick’s Vista Field, but pulled out when it realized it needed more money than it could realistically raise through donations.

“Since it’s not at Vista Field anymore, we’re starting from scratch in terms of where to locate and how to fund,” she said.

Her predecessor, Davin Diaz, discussed siting it near the Reach Museum in Richland, but Brown said several sites are in contention.

The Arts Center Task Force is discussing candidates with the city of Richland. It is also discussing a funding partnership with the city’s public facilities district. Washington law allows such districts to ask voters to raise sales taxes to support public venues.

Brown said the task force will have to raise money from a mix of private donations, grants and public sources. It previously identified $40 million in funding sources, including $15 million from individuals, $5 million from grants and $20 million from public sources.

She expects to launch a formal capital campaign, but in the interim, the task force is accepting donations and holding fundraisers, including a socially-distanced breakfast Dec. 1 at C.G. Public House in Kennewick.

A similar effort is underway in Spokane to build a $36 million performing arts center. The Spokane Valley Summer Theater intends to break ground in September on a 59,000-square-foot performing center near the Tru by Hilton hotel in the Mirabeau Park neighborhood, reports the Spokane Journal of Business.

The Spokane Valley Performing Arts Center will open in February 2024. Its supporters have raised $12 million and will use financing from State Bank Northwest. The Spokane center will have a 475-seat main theater, a 200-seat flexible studio theater, an acting conservatory and event and meeting space.

The design by Spokane-based NAC Architecture is art deco in style and includes several water features and broad views to Mt. Spokane. The Spokane Valley City Council awarded $6,000 to support fund-raising activities.

In the Tri-Cities, the Covid-19 pandemic slowed progress, but it did lead the Arts Center Task Force to open its first-ever physical location and to take time to overhaul its marketing materials, logo and website.

The task force moved into a former Christian broadcasting studio at 704 Symons St. in Richland.

Its new home has a recording studio and conference room. It launched ACTF Digital Studio, providing audio visual and streaming services to arts groups as well as rehearsal space.

“It’s a good step for us,” said Brown, who said many nonprofits were forced to hold virtual events when in-person ones were prohibited.“In the pandemic, a lot of people had to go online and didn’t know how to do that,” she said.

Donations to support eventual construction of a performing arts center are held in a special account and are not used for operational costs.

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Reporter Erica Bullock of the Spokane Journal of Business contributed to this report.

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