Brookings City Council will investigate the possibility of transforming a vacant bowling alley into a performing arts center, but a variety of factors must be considered before it could ever become reality, the group agreed Monday.
“The Harvard student said right now it wouldn’t work,” said Mayor Ron Hedenskog of a recent feasibility study that indicated the local arts groups aren’t yet strong enough to financially support such an endeavor. “But I think it’s a great idea. It doesn’t mean I’m ready to kill anything.”
At issue is the strength of the various performing arts groups in town, all of whom admit they could not maintain such a facility themselves — or possibly even as a collaborative. There is the issue of attracting tourists to see performances and if they’d be willing to drive a long way to do so.
But ultimately, it comes down to money.
Initial estimates indicated that it would cost between $5 million and $6 million to renovate the bowling alley to house two, 80-seat theaters and a 300-seat theater, restaurant, administrative office and rooms specifically needed for theatrical and musical performances. That cost doesn’t include the $1.2 million asking price for the building.
Currently, the Urban Renewal Plan budget is strapped, with various projects on line to be studied or built. One of them, which would spend the bulk of the budget, is the major remodel of Railroad Street.
That project is also dependent on federal dollars, which are uncertain as Congress keeps allocating chunks of money to fund projects on a year-to-year basis, leaving grantees uncertain as many studies can take years to develop, much less, build.
“The general consensus I hear from people is (they’d prefer) an ER (emergency room), not an arts center,” said councilor Bill Hamilton. “And $5 million is a lot of money to raise.”
Councilor Jake Pieper agreed.
“It’s a great idea, until you’re the one to write the check,” he said. “Then it’s not such a great idea. I’m interested, but the taxpayers aren’t going to pay for it. The artists aren’t going to pay for it. I’m not sure I want to put a lot of effort and staff time into something that, at the end of the day, its all about money.”
Representatives from Friends of Music, Stagelights Musical Arts Community and the Del Norte/Curry County Orchestra, suggested the council look at the larger picture of what a community center like this could bring to the community.
“The scary part is, you could build it and they might not come,” Hedenskog said.
“Nothing ever happens unless you take that first step,” said Steve Combs, of Friends of Music. “We must promote Brookings, and have something worth promoting.”
He noted that Friends of Music is not capable of tackling such a project by itself, but if it and others could form a large, regional organization, that would increase its odds of obtaining grant funding.
Connie Hunter, an avid arts fundraiser, said the more diverse such a center can prove itself to be in its offerings, the better the odds are of securing funding — even from national endowments.
“You have performing arts, visual arts, education — collaborate with a museum — and it gets you into the National Endowment for the Arts, the Western States Arts Federation,” she said.
She offered an example of how the small efforts of groups in Scottsdale, Arizona, transformed it into the largest attended festival in the state.
“If you don’t think it’s about destination tourism, it is. You make a brand, you create and image, and people come for that,” she said.
Stagelights chairman Scott Graves noted that some foundations, notably the Oregon Community Foundation, often grant funds in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.
“With something like this, we have something that could be deemed worthy,” he said. “Or people in the community will come out of the shadows and bequeath funds; we’ve seen this happen. It’s all speculation at this point.”
Graves added that his organization believed the original intention was that the city would purchase the building, lease it to a foundation for a nominal sum and turn over the financing, renovation, management, operations and maintenance to that foundation.
“The huge grants are usually awarded to projects based on collaborations,” he noted of recent trends. “If we can show there is unity, if they can see that groups are working together. …”
Graves said the $5 million or $6 million estimate for the center is based on building a “Taj Mahal” facility. The project could also be done in phases, as money becomes available.
City Manager Gary Milliman noted that other entities that might not have had enough money to fund studies or construction by themselves did have enough funds to hire someone to seek grants and other revenue sources to get the work done.
“Creative financing is building it with someone else’s money,” Hedenskog said with a chuckle. “And if anyone can do it, Gary (Milliman) is the one that can make things happen. I’m interested. Let’s let our city manager be creative.”