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Youth Theatre Northwest gets qualified OK for recycle site

This rending of one possible design of a new performing arts center for Youth Theatre Northwest is shown looking west down S.E. 32nd Street, toward the old recycling center property and Bicentennial Park. The City Council selected the option for the recycling center for YTN to study further and present a plan to the city to address financing and siting issues. - Contributed Image
This rending of one possible design of a new performing arts center for Youth Theatre Northwest is shown looking west down S.E. 32nd Street, toward the old recycling center property and Bicentennial Park. The City Council selected the option for the recycling center for YTN to study further and present a plan to the city to address financing and siting issues.
— image credit: Contributed Image

In the next few years, Youth Theater Northwest (YTN) expects to lose its present space that it leases from the Mercer Island School District near the high school stadium, on S.E. 40th Street.

Along with supporters, YTN has approached the City of Mercer Island regarding its possible use of land in the Town Center for a new performing arts facility for their organization.

YTN says that a theater in the Town Center would benefit Island restaurants and Island businesses by people coming to attend performances. They suggest that many types of entertainment would be offered at the site, bringing people on foot who live in the apartments nearby. They point out that performances and rehearsals occur in the afternoons and evenings, and that parking along city streets can accommodate increases in traffic

The Council has discussed the possibility of siting such a facility at either the Mercer Island Community and Event Center or the old recycling center land and the Bicentennial Park space.

At a planning session held in June, the Council came up with six alternatives with various combinations of location, ownership and control options.

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.

Council members Jane Brahm and Tana Senn were appointed to explore each of these six proposals and choose one. They were to evaluate each within a set of criteria that included parking, traffic and access, land use and environmental impact, safety and financial viability.

YTN hopes that the new facility could be located in the old recycling center space.

As YTN would need to raise private money for the project. A space visible in the Town Center would make it more appealing to potential donors, said YTN Director Manny Cawaling.

Senn and Brahm reviewed the six alternatives. Their report to the Council indicated that each of the six alternatives had merit and represented a viable option, yet they recommended that the recycling center land alternative was the best one presented.

Their finding was that it will be incumbent upon YTN to come forward with a plan that spells out how the project will be financed, constructed and operated. The city would not be involved in the project outside of providing the land.

The report says: “The committee recommends that the City Council communicate to Youth Theatre Northwest its intention to make the former Recycling Center site available for further study and analysis as a future Performing Arts facility. Further, the committee recommends that a stand-alone performing arts facility should be pursued. This assumes that YTN would serve as the primary tenant of the facility and that other public performances would be accommodated.”

YTN would undertake the design, construction and financing and management of the facility.

Brahm and Senn also recommended that the City Council set a fixed time period for reservation of the recycling center site. Within that time period, the Council will determine the viability of the proposal and if it is appropriate for that site or if another site should be evaluated, or to abandon the proposal completely.

Finally, the committee said that public outreach should determine if public land should be committed to a private entity.

Councilmember Brahm said the committee’s findings do not make the theater a done deal.

“Our task was to look at the six alternatives and base our findings on the parameters we were given to work with,” she explained.

“I am a big fan of YTN,” she said. “But I have some major concerns.”

Brahm ticked off a list of areas that need careful consideration, including parking near the site and the long-term ramifications about gifting city property.

Council member Senn noted that YTN has to demonstrate that they can accomplish the project.

“They will have to show us how they will mitigate all of these concerns about parking, traffic, etc.,” she explained, noting that locating the

But in the end, both Senn and Brahm agree that it will be YTN’s task to demonstrate the feasibility of the project.

“YTN will have to show us how they would do it,” Senn said.

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