Town Center theater idea gains momentum

Chair says Center for the Arts is aiming for public-private partnership.

John Gordon Hill’s family has been on the Island since 1963 and the prospect of a future cultural hub in the form of the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA), thrills him.

“There’s a hunger for it,” says Hill, Chair of MICA. “There’s a real need for it.”

Last week the board began accepting applications for an executive director. They have applied 501(c)3 status and are in the process of coming up with a schematic design and final budget. Hill says the city has committed to a site at the western edge of Mercerdale Park, what used to be a recycling facility. Designs plans are still being finessed but the project will encompass a 350-seat venue, a 100-foot recital hall and a black box theater area. An expansive lobby will allow for gallery exhibitions. There will also be classrooms and administrative offices for Youth Theater Northwest (YTN). Finding YTN a new home after it was evicted for the construction of a fourth elementary school, has been the keystone of MICA’s campaign efforts.

“It’s moving forward very rapidly,” said Hill, who hopes for year-long fundraising efforts and construction lasting between one and two years.

“This is a big project. Is has a long lifespan; we’re talking about something that’s going to be on Mercer Island for the next 50 to 100 years. We see this as a public-private partnership,” said Hill. “I hope the city meets us halfway.”

He suggested a bond issue put before voters is one possibility: “The city gets an enormous boost in cultural life and a gorgeous facility, only half of which they’re doing on their facility, only half of which they’re doing on their own.”

Hill said that early project estimates of $10 million were below the mark, but that the board and stakeholders were actively meeting to figure out how to lower costs. In a recent meeting, they shaved 6,000 feet from the total project.

Hill acknowledges that recent Island additions, like the Stroum Jewish Community Center’s new performance hall will create some overlap in services but that by working together they can ensure the two compliment and enhance the community.

“I think the arts are rich enough on the Island that there’s more than enough need for both spaces,” says Hill. “We see ourselves as within the same cultural landscape, as partners.”

To learn more, visit: mercerislandarts.org/.

 

CORRECTION: The print version of this story incorrectly stated that MICA had applied for and received 501(c)3 status. MICA is still in the application process.

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