‘You have to keep going’: Group continues to push for performing arts center on Washougal waterfront

Performing arts center backers will host 'Taste 'n Tunes' fundraiser Saturday, Aug. 20, at Marina Park in Washougal

Previous Next

Columbia River Arts and Culture Foundation (CRACF) board vice president Clare Hovland doesn’t think he should take a vacation until the nonprofit’s organization’s proposed performing arts and cultural center is built on the Washougal waterfront, no matter how long it takes.

That mindset is a microcosm of how the group has been approaching its work during the past three years.

“One of the things that we learned in our research is that the places that have been successful, like the performing arts building in Yakima … all of them had this dogged group of people that just kept going,” CRACF board president Martha Martin said. “And that’s what it is. It’s like a marathon — you just have to keep going. And we’re learning all the time. We’re still following our timeline. It got shifted in 2020, that’s for sure. But we’re still moving along.”

CRACF will hold its first fundraising event, “Taste ‘n Tunes 2022,” from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Marina Park in Washougal.

“We felt that this was the best summer to do it because things are starting to come back,” Martin said. “We were looking at the weather, of course, to make sure that we don’t get rained on. And we wanted to have it in the area that (the performing arts and culture center would be) predominantly located, or at least close by to where we want to have it, so people could see this awesome view and experience that beautiful river and just really experience a whole lot of real fun things.”

The event will feature musical performances from Louis “King Louie” Pain and Jim Fischer & Friends, food trucks and children’s rock painting.

“The plan for this event is to really be able to showcase some local musicians and also feature some local food vendors,” Hovland said. “We want to (put on) a nice, family friendly event. The musicians that are playing are mostly jazz oriented, and they play a kind of upbeat music that makes people want to get up and dance a little bit, move around. We’re going for that positive, fun, family vibe. And we’re also going to be including a kid’s activity — we want to make sure that the kids are involved, too.”

Tickets cost $15 ($5 for children 12 and younger) and can be purchased at givebutter.com/TasteNTunes.

“We expect there to be a very solid turnout for this event,” Hovland said. “We’re not sure in terms of numbers yet since this is our first time hosting the event, but with it being on a Saturday in August, likely that the weather’s going to be beautiful, people are always looking for things to do, having having some local musicians and local food vendors participating, I’m sure we’re going to have a great turnout. The Port was able to get 3,000 or 3,500 people down there for the Fourth of July (event), so we have a benchmark to shoot for.”

The CRACF started out as a grassroots, 14-person steering committee put together by Martin and Washougal resident and then-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.

“Valuing arts education, cultural diversity, and the development of a sustained arts and culture ecosystem are core parts of Washougal’s civic identity,” CRACF board members wrote in a letter to the city of Washougal in 2021. “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.”

After officially becoming a nonprofit organization in February 2021, the CRACF launched a campaign to raise funds for a professional feasibility study that will determine the viability of the proposed project. The foundation hopes to raise at least $50,000 for the study, CRACF board treasurer Taylor Cusack told the Post-Record in 2021.

“Our focus is going to be getting the feasibility study completed before the end of the year,” Hovland said. “That’s going to be a huge undertaking, but the fundraising that’s coming from this event will really set us up to do that. (The feasibility study) is a huge milestone for us. We need to get it done in a timely manner so that we can stay in front of the construction and the development that’s happening with the Port and with Roy Kim. Timing is very crucial.”

Port Chief Executive Officer David Ripp indicated during a March 2021 Washougal city council 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.”

Nevertheless, CRACF leaders remain focused on the waterfront site.

“(Kim’s) development is planned out in three different phases,” Hovland said. “The area that we’re looking to build the facility on is the last phase that will be developed. As far as we know, they have not promised any of that phase to anybody at this point. As long as we can get that feasibility study done to support our mission and we can start showing that we have backing from some private donors, we’re confident that they will allow us to sign some sort of agreement to allow us to build there.”

CRACF leaders haven’t talked with Kim or Port officials this year, according to Martin.

“Dave Ripp and Roy Kim both get our newsletter, so they know what’s going on, and we keep them in the loop,” she said. “I think as far as a conversation with them goes, that’s probably going to happen after the (fundraising) event so we can all sit down and update ourselves …. and see where (Kim) is at and understand his frame of mind. … The last time we had a conversation, there was support if we came through with the feasibility study and it shows what they need to see.

“I think the one aspect that is really important for everybody to understand is that this (would be) a nonprofit performing arts and cultural center,” she continued. “That means that it will be accessed by everybody and it will be affordable for everyone. It will bring dollars to the community, so that’s where the economic boost comes from. It helps the waterfront, it helps our community. That’s what that feasibility study will show.”

CRACF leaders have focused on public engagement and fundraising efforts in the past year, according to Martin.

“We’ve been going out in the community and talking with people,” she said. “We’ve been attending the local events in the area. So we’re trying to get ourselves out into the community more and have more of a presence so people know about us. And I gotta tell you, every time we’re out there, we have people come up and say, ” That is so cool.’ Nobody ever says it’s a bad idea. It’s so encouraging.”

For more information about the foundation, visit cracf.org.