Advocates say building performing arts center on Washougal waterfront would be ‘practical, profitable’

CRACF members seek data and evidence to support claims, build feasibility study

The members of the Columbia River Arts and Cultural Foundation (CRACF) are confident that their proposal to build a state-of-the-art performing arts and cultural center on the Washougal waterfront is a practical and profitable one. Now they’re looking for some data and evidence to support their claims.

After officially becoming a nonprofit organization in February, the CRACF launched a campaign to raise funds for a professional feasibility study that will determine the viability of the proposed project.

“The feasibility study is going to be our road map,” said CRACF board president Martha Martin. “It’s going to have data and direction and community input and design and funding and all of those things so we can bring from that a business plan. It will show us how to move forward with this (project). The business plan that’s going to come out of the feasibility study is really critical. It also helps with getting grant funding as well, to have a very professional, complete feasibility study.”

The foundation hopes to raise at least $50,000 for the study, according to board treasurer Taylor Cusack.

“There’s a lot of different companies that do these feasibility studies that work specifically with performing arts centers. We haven’t chosen the exact one because we’re still at the beginning stages of getting the money for it, but basically, we’ll send out proposals to different groups that we’d like to work with and pick the best one,” Cusack said. “They’ll definitely be a huge part of the project, because they not only (do the) feasibility study, but they also come up with operations and things that we’ll need to run the center. They’re a huge part of it, so we’re definitely taking our time to find the right company to help us with that.”

The CRACF started out as a grassroots, 14-person steering committee put together by Martin and Washougal resident and city councilwoman Alex Yost in 2019. During a November 2019 Port of Camas-Washougal commission meeting, Martin and Yost presented a proposal to develop a facility on the southeast corner of the Port’s Waterfront at Parker’s Landing development, taking up between 2.5 acres and 4.5 acres with a 50,000-square-foot building that would include 1,200 seats, a main stage, a rehearsal stage, orchestra pit, studios, a lobby and flexible-use spaces.

The CRACF recently wrote in a letter to the city of Washougal that “valuing arts education, cultural diversity, and the development of a sustained arts and culture ecosystem are core parts of Washougal’s civic identity.”

“Our vision will accomplish the following: grace the waterfront area with views of the river and natural surroundings; blend seamlessly with the planned, vibrant, mixed-use 18-hour day development; draw people within a 50-mile radius by hosting national and international performances; carefully integrate into the environment to minimize disruptions and promote sustainable development; provide careful provisions for traffic flow and parking; and be valued as a key cornerstone of the community for generations to come,” the letter stated.

The city and the Port are working to finalize an agreement for a “master plan” for the development of the Waterfront at Parker’s Landing, which the Port has described as a “lively, walkable place with community gathering and character spaces, open spaces, and a mix of uses including commercial, retail, employment, residential and other compatible uses.”

The agreement was approved by Port commissioners on March 3 and discussed by city councilors on March 8.

The CRACF requested that the Washougal City Council, through the development agreement, require the Port to set aside three to four acres of land from the site for the performing arts and cultural center.

“The foundation is (asking) for something concrete — for a lack of a better phrase, something that can be ‘taken to the bank,'” Yost said during the council’s March 8 virtual meeting. “They’re pushing really hard to do a lot of fundraising right now. We had a lot of great conversations with the Port and RKm Development, and I feel there’s a lot of synergy with the various projects. But what’s difficult is that you just can’t take lip service to the bank.”

However, Port chief executive officer David Ripp indicated during the meeting that Roy Kim, the Waterfront at Paker’s Landing’s lead developer, isn’t high on the idea of reserving a portion of the property for the proposed performing arts and cultural center. Ripp referenced Kim’s involvement with the development of the Beaverton, Oregon-based Patricia Reser Performing Arts Center, which took about 15 years to complete.

“When we sat down with Roy, he said, ‘I support the project, I support the Port considering it, but I just don’t want to tie up my property and wait for something (that may never materialize),” Ripp said. “Phase one of this development is (going to cost) $90 million, and a lot of that is infrastructure. If you’re wanting to create more revenue, create other phases, holding off on a piece of property for something that (may or may not) come to fruition (doesn’t make sense). Roy and the Port don’t want to lose other opportunities by tying up the property based on something that could be 10 or 15 years down the road.”

However, the foundation isn’t necessarily asking for that large of a timeframe, according to Martin.

“Yes, the Beaverton facility did take as long as it took. We’re talking with them, and Roy Kim was involved with their facility as a fundraiser,” she said. “People have learned a lot since then about how to do this. We want to know how to do it right. That’s what the feasibility study is all about. (We’d like to hear), ‘This is the site they’re looking at. Let’s give them about five years to break ground. If they can’t, we move on.’ That is a reasonable ask. Otherwise, we may lose this opportunity, and there isn’t another.”