Washougal group plans waterfront arts center

Ten-member committee to hold meetings at Port every third Thursday

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Port of Camas-Washougal commissioner Larry Keister (left) talks with Washougal resident Martha Martin after a July 1 meeting. Keister and Martin are members of a steering committee that will propose the formation of a performing arts and cultural center on the Washougal waterfront.

A group of Camas-Washougal area arts advocates have formed a steering committee to discuss the creation of a performing arts and cultural center on the Washougal waterfront.

Washougal residents Martha Martin and Washougal City Councilwoman and business owner Alex Yost are co-chairing the 10-person committee, which will eventually bring a proposal for a performing arts and cultural center to the Port of Camas-Washougal Board of Commissioners for that group’s approval and support.

Committee members held their first meeting June 20 and will meet at 5:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at the Port’s office. Members of the public are welcome to attend the meetings.

“We’re at the beginning, the birthing stage,” said Martin, a licensed psychologist with a practice in downtown Washougal. “A lot of ideas are being thrown out all over the place. We’re going to have to decide what it is we want, where we’re going to put it, how we’re going to pay for it and how to operate it.”

In addition to Martin and Yost, the committee includes Port commissioner Larry Keister; Stuart Bennett, vice president of licensed channel sales for GABY, a company that produces wellness products; Amanda Carter-Jura, vice president of the board of directors for Oregon Children’s Theatre; Chuck Carpenter, a member of the Washougal Arts and Cultural Alliance; Washougal High School drama teacher Kelly Gregersen; Catherine Haley-Epstein, a Camas-based artist, award-winning writer, designer and curator; Clare Hovland, a client strategist at KRT Marketing; and Stephanie Wichmann, a clinical social worker and drama therapist at RiverWay Counseling in Washougal.

“When I met the other people in the committee, I went, ‘Wow. If anybody can pull it off, this group can,’” Keister said. “They’re very diversified and very passionate.”

Keister has two perspectives about the proposed performing arts and cultural center.

“As a community member I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It would be a destination location and a place for our community to have plays, presentations of different types, dance recitals, music recitals, art classes, music lessons – a whole possibility of things.

“As a Port commissioner, I have to be diligent about how we would sell or lease the land, just like we would do with any contractor,” he continued. “Our mission is to create jobs and revenue for the community. We can’t give land away. I’d like to see it work, but I have to be careful about Port property. The business side has to be represented. We’re all for it, but how do we make it work?”

The committee members don’t have those answers yet, but Martin said they envision “a professional performing arts and cultural center.”

“That means it will be high end,” she said. “There’s been some discussion of between 700 and 1,200 seats within the main part of the building; classroom space; a smaller recital studio, perhaps; and an entrance displaying artwork and cultural items.

“It would be a draw, a destination, not just community-wide but state-wide, even internationally based on where we’re located,” she continued. “This will be someplace that anchors our community, that people will talk about. It’s one of those things where people start to feel like, ‘It’s ours.’”

The committee will be challenged to “figure out who’s going to run it; will it be a nonprofit?” and come up with a funding model, which “will be huge,” Yost, who owns OurBar restaurant in downtown Washougal with her husband, Kevin Credelle, said, adding that she can see the potential benefits of a performing arts and cultural center as a business owner and as a Washougal city councilwoman.

“So many young families live here because the schools are great, it’s beautiful and the property is affordable,” Yost said. “They come here because the soil is rich. Now we need to plant some seeds and give people things to do. A cultural center can provide people with opportunities. It can also provide jobs. There would be a lot of chances for people to get jobs locally and not have to go to Vancouver or Portland for work.”

The Port is in the preliminary stages of developing The Waterfront at Parker’s Landing, a 35-acre waterfront development billed as a “multi-use area for dining, shopping, errands, family fun and inter-generational entertainment, all next-door to beautifully designed residences with amazing waterfront views of the river and scenic Gorge.”

The Port chose Portland’s RKm Construction as its lead waterfront developer in April.

“We’ve talked to him a little bit, and he wants to come to our meetings and discuss (the performing arts and cultural center) with us, because whatever we do needs to be part of what they’re doing,” Martin said of RKm owner Roy Kim and The Waterfront at Parker’s Landing development.

This isn’t the first time a group of dedicated Washougal folks have tried to get a performing arts and cultural center built in the area.

“There was another attempt in the mid-1970s,” Martin said. “That was the Columbia River Culture Center. There was an overlap with the people that also worked on getting Parker’s Landing Park and Two Rivers Heritage Museum working. There was a moment in time (when it was possible).

“But this is a different time, different place, different culture community-wise,” she continued. “I think the timing is right. The Port is listening to us. We have this team together. I’m very optimistic at this point.”

Yost shares Martin’s outlook.

“At the first meeting, I had a gut-check feeling of, ‘This is not a group of dreamers. This is a group of visionaries,’” she said. “This has been in the works for so long. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when and how and who.”