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Mercer Island City Council vets possible nonprofit development at Mercerdale Park

A newer and larger Youth Theatre Northwest is proposed for the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park on the old recycling center site and Bicentennial Park land. A site at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center is also being discussed. Plans call for three performance spaces. YTN would raise the money for the project. - Weinstein A|U/Contributed Art
A newer and larger Youth Theatre Northwest is proposed for the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park on the old recycling center site and Bicentennial Park land. A site at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center is also being discussed. Plans call for three performance spaces. YTN would raise the money for the project.
— image credit: Weinstein A|U/Contributed Art

The Mercer Island City Council discussed two proposals that would involve construction on the edges of Mercerdale Park at their mini-planning session on Saturday, June 8.

Thrift Shop expansion

The first piece is a proposal to enlarge and upgrade the city’s wildly successful Thrift Shop, whose proceeds help fund the city’s Youth and Family Services staff and programs. The Thrift Shop, at the corner of 78th Avenue S.E. and S.E. 34th Street grossed $1.22 million in 2012. The shop is run by volunteers and one paid city staffer who unload, sort, price and sell the goods and manage the mountains of trash generated by the store donations.

The city had preliminary plans drawn up to out a plan to increase the selling space of the shop by separating collection and sorting facilities in the  former pool building as well as provide for more parking and better access.

The proposal includes a new access lane for donation drop-offs along 78th Avenue S.E. that would end in a cul-de-sac and turn around on park land next to the play area.

A new building east of the existing facility would house the drop-off, sorting and staff areas. The changes would result in at least 3,000 square feet of additional sales floor.

The proposed cost of the project is $2.5 million. The city is considering how best to finance the construction of the changes.

Some changes to the existing building may trigger the need for seismic upgrades and fire suppression equipment.

The proposal would also require an expansion of the existing parking area by 20 spaces. The site is also plagued by stormwater runoff issues.

The city hopes to use the store proceeds to make Youth and Family Services self-sufficient and eliminate the subsidy for the department from the city’s general fund.

After debating the design of the new additions, the City Council said that the city should move forward to study the proposal further.

Youth Theatre Northwest considers two sites

Youth Theatre Northwest will need a new home after construction begins in the megablock around Mercer Island High School.

Both patrons and management of YTN have long been looking for a site to rehome and expand their drama programs for youth.

Preliminary plans presented to the City Council on Saturday took the existing size of the site at the old North Mercer gym, a 14,000-square-foot space, and expanded it to a 24,000-square-foot space in or near the Town Center. It would include three performance spaces: a 250-seat theater, a 100-seat ‘black box’ theater, and a flexible ‘light box’ space that can open out for outdoor performances or events.

YTN boosters support the old recycling center site at the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park for the site, but are also reviewing the possibility of siting a new performing arts center adjacent to the Mercer Island Community and Event Center.

Initial designs made for the MICEC in 2003 called for a performing arts center,  but it was later dropped due to cost concerns. Both sites would require an arrangement for the non-profit to use city land.

City Manager Rich Conrad cautioned that the city and YTN are a long way off from selecting a location or deciding on how the site would be managed or leased. YTN must raise money privately for the project.

“We have more study and work ahead of us before the Council is ready to make a decision on which site to make available to YTN,” Conrad said. “We also have much to consider about the relationship the city will have with YTN — whether it would be as a tenant, lessee, building manager or owner/financier.”

The Council discussed the projects on the merits of what was appropriate for each site, whether it be size, parking availability and marketing concerns. But most agreed that for a theater, the Town Center site would be ideal for its proximity to complementary activities such as restaurants and the number of people who live nearby.

At issue at both sites is the competition for parking.  And finally, YTN would need to raise private money for construction.  A space visible in the Town Center would make it more appealing to potential donors, said Manny Cawaling of YTN.

The Council, concerned about the other projects in the works as well as impacts on neighbors and parking, was split on whether to move forward to select one site or the other. The Council agreed that more study was needed.

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