A nonprofit with a bold plan to build a performing arts center at the heart of Kennewick’s Vista Field has pulled out, saying it intends to pursue taxpayer funding in Richland.
The Vista Arts Center vision is still very much alive, but the financial model has shifted to a public-private partnership, said Steven Wiley, chairman of the Arts Center Task Force.
The task force had a $10,000 agreement with the Port of Kennewick to buy 2.2 acres at the heart of the Vista Field redevelopment project. The deal set the stage for the group to build a privately-financed arts center with an 800-seat theater, gallery, event space and catering kitchen.
The agreement expired a year ago.
Wiley notified the port in February it won’t renew after a 2018 study concluded the task force can’t raise the full $35 million to $40 million it needs from private contributions and grants. It will require about $20 million in public financing.
It’s a dramatic shift for the Arts Center Task Force, which intended to fund its project with private contributions and grants.
The public funding requirement knocked Vista Field out of consideration—the port won’t fund the project.
Wiley confirmed the task force is pursuing a potential relationship with the Richland Public Facilities District.
The district, an arm of the city, has the legal authority to ask voters to approve a one-tenth or two-tenths of a percent sales tax increase to build public facilities.
In a subsequent phone call, Wiley said it was only fair to let the port know about its changing plans because the port is preparing to market the first lots at Vista Field this year.
Wiley expects to announce new potential partnerships “soon.”
He declined to elaborate, saying he doesn’t want to have to walk back promises.
“The proof in the pudding is in the performing arts center. The project is not over at all,” he said.
The port wished the task force well after reviewing the situation in March.
“Should, in the future, the Arts Center Task Force find itself with funds sufficient to pursue building and operating a regional performing arts center at Vista Field, we remain willing and interested in discussing opportunities for collaboration; perhaps in a subsequent phase of build-out,” it said in a letter signed by Don Barnes, chairman of the board.
Moving to Richland?
The task force indicated there is interest in building the center in Richland, possibly next to the Reach Museum on Columbia Park Trail.
The task force has presented its project to Richland’s Public Facilities District board, according to both Davin Diaz, its new executive director, and Rosanna Sharpe, executive director of the district-owned Reach. Sharpe was speaking on behalf of Daniel Boyd, the board’s current chairman, who was unavailable to discuss the Arts Center Task Force plan.
Sharpe said it would be up to the city of Richland to decide if such a project should be submitted to voters because it is responsible for issuing and managing bonds. Hollie Logan, city spokeswoman, said the city council has not discussed the matter.
Sharpe said the public facilities district board supports a performing arts center, but needs more information than it has received to date.
“The PFD welcomes a conversation about it but until we see more codified documents about the bond, what their operational costs are, how they’re staffing it, what their program model looks like, those things will help us determine if we take it on,” she said.
The Reach subleases its site from the city, which leases it from the Army Corps of Engineers.
A performing arts center could require a waiver from the land’s recreational use designation.
Diaz wants Richland voters to decide if the project moves forward.
“Voters will have the opportunity to determine if they want it. That’s the beauty of the democratic process,” he said.
Tri-City voters haven’t yet agreed to raise local sales taxes to build public facilities.
The four ballot requests to date have all failed—a regional request in 2013 to build an aquatics center in Pasco and three requests to Kennewick voters to support “The Link,” an expansion of the Three Rivers Convention Center.
Wiley, the arts center board chairman, believes the community will stand behind the performing arts center because it would only be asked to pay about half the cost. Kennewick and Richland residents identified a performing arts center as a top priority in a survey connected to the first public facilities district’s efforts.
Too many performing arts centers?
The Arts Center Task Force may have to compete with two other performance-oriented amenities for support.
The city of Kennewick is expanding the Three Rivers Convention Center with existing funds after voters rejected The Link.
And Columbia Basin College requested $2.3 million from the state Legislature to design a replacement for its aging arts center.
“You need to have a profound and moving case statement for why yours is going to be different,” Sharpe said.
The Arts Center Task Force’s move to pull out of Vista Field coincides with the first phase of redevelopment.
Total Site Services, a port contractor, is finishing up a $4.9 million project to build roads, sidewalks, utility lines and other infrastructure at Vista Field.
The port will solicit proposals from prospective developers for the first 20 acres, including the former performing arts center site, this year.
It initially viewed the performing arts center as the cultural heart for Vista Field and a catalyst that would attract private investment. After the deal fell apart, the port said it expects Vista Field to thrive without it.
Wiley notes the Arts Center Task Force has more than 1,000 supporters and raised more than $1 million to pursue the project, including about $250,000 to pay a Seattle architect for drawings.
It had nearly $500,000 in net assets in 2017, according to its most recent filing with the IRS.
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