Groups adjusts vision for performing arts center

Feasibility study shows need for facility with auditorium for 300 to 500 people

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The Columbia River Arts and Cultural Foundation hopes to construct a performing arts center on the Washougal waterfront, featuring an auditorium with between 300 and 500 seats. (Contributed photo courtesy of Columbia River Arts and Cultural Foundation)

Columbia River Arts and Cultural Foundation (CRACF) leaders recently learned that their vision of including a 1,200-seat auditorium as part of the performing arts center they hope to construct on the Washougal waterfront is probably a bad idea.

And they say they are fine with that.

“Scaling down in size of the main auditorium makes sense,” said CRACF President Clare Hovland. “We’re a smaller community, and we don’t need to try to be fighting against the Keller Auditorium (in Portland).”

The downsizing of the auditorium was the “key takeaway” from a feasibility study recently completed by TheaterDNA, a Los Angeles-based theater consulting firm, to determine the viability of the CRACF’s plans to bring a performing arts center to the Washougal waterfront.

Hovland said “everything” in the study “was positive.”

“Our initial idea of having our main auditorium seat about 1,200-plus was shooting a little too high,” Hovland said. “The feasibility study shows that there is a lack of facilities of that size here in Clark County. However, where we are, the site location, our primary market is Camas-Washougal. Our secondary market will include Vancouver and Skamania County. We’re not looking at the numbers from Portland. Obviously, there will be some people from Portland that will venture over, but they’re not really considered ‘in-market’ for us.”

The CRACF started out as a grassroots, 14-person steering committee put together by Martha Martin and then-Washougal City Council member Alex Yost in 2019. The group earned its nonprofit status in February 2021.

During a November 2019 Port of Camas-Washougal Board of Commissioners meeting, Martin and Yost presented a proposal to develop a facility on the southeast corner of the Port’s waterfront 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 group is now moving forward with a plan to construct an auditorium with 300 to 500 seats, according to Hovland.

“And we’re good with that,” he added. “From everything that we saw, if we were to go the bigger route and have a 1,200-seat main auditorium, it would be vacant 70 percent of the time. We don’t want that. We would rather have full theaters and sold-out shows. In (Camas-Washougal), we’re not going to fill those huge auditoriums. We’re going to be more of that community performing arts facility.”

Hovland said the change will have a significant impact on the estimated cost of the project.

“Obviously, shifting to the smaller size is going to mean a smaller cost valuation,” he said. “Instead of looking at something that’s going to cost $75 (million) to $100 million, we’re looking at something that’s going to be more in the $30- to $40-million range.”

TheatreDNA examined several arts-related reports, surveys and feasibility studies compiled by local organizations; conducted interviews with key stakeholders, including employees at RKm Development, the firm that will break ground on the Hyas Point development at the Port of Camas-Washougal later this year, Port commissioners, Camas and Washougal city council members, and local business owners. They also toured 11 local and regional performing arts facilities, according to Hyland.

“It was very in-depth. They did a full-on market analysis (to find out) what’s going to work for us,” he said. “It’s not going to be the big Broadway show. Those folks are going to be performing and booking over in Portland, and that’s fine. It’s going to be the shows that are going to want to look for the secondary-type markets as they’re touring around. Also, live comedy is something that is very, very popular right now, (and that showed in) the data. That’s what people want to see.”

The report showed that 85% of the people interviewed believe there are not enough cultural resources in Camas-Washougal; 93% believe there are not enough cultural spaces; 74% want to see more live music; 61% want to see more live theater; and 30% want to see comedy, according to Hovland.

“This is data that supports our claim that there is a need for it here,” Hovland said. “The community wants it. Business owners want it. Performing arts centers are one of those key anchor-point facilities that will draw in people, whether they’re in-market or whether they’re traveling to see a show, and they’re going to spend money at other businesses that are around that location.”

CRACF leaders will now present the study’s findings to Port and RKm Development leaders.

“They understand (our plan),” he said. “They just want to dot their I’s and cross their T’s and make sure that the data is there to support it. That’s kind of our next step. We’ve got the data, so let’s re-engage with the city council members, the Port commissioners and the developer, and show them what the results are and let them know what our next steps are. We know where they stand in terms of being open to the idea of having a performing arts facility within their development. We knew we needed to do a feasibility study, and now it’s really time to … get these meetings set and continue the momentum towards the next chapter.”

The Port’s chief executive officer, David Ripp, indicated during a Port Commission meeting in April 2021, that Roy Kim, the lead developer of the Port’s Hyas Point waterfront development project, was not sold on the idea of reserving a portion of the property for the proposed performing arts and cultural center.

CRACF Vice President John Kivlen told The Post-Record in 2023, that he “completely understands” Kim’s concerns, but believes the waterfront is “an ideal location” for the performing arts and cultural center.

“We think a facility like this will not only be great for the numerous families that are planning to move into or are currently moving into the Washougal-Camas-Clark County area, but would be a revenue generator for years to come,” he said.

Hovland added that, while the group is “focused” on the waterfront location, it also is open to the idea or pursuing alternative sites.

“We are open to other locations,” Hovland said. “We’ve talked to the Port about that. It sounds like they might have another location or two that we could look at. We’ve had some conversations with (downtown Washougal real estate developer) Wes Hickey, too. We’re keeping our minds open, but the internal group feels like there’s a lot of connection to the Port site. Looking back in history, that was a very important location in terms of different tribes congregating, having trades go on, and having different performing arts go on.”

CRACF leaders are also talking about the possibility of holding events, possibly as soon as later this year, as a way to raise money and build brand awareness, according to Hovland, who added that the group hopes to fund the project “mostly (with) private donations.”

“We want to secure some major donors and get out there and connect with the community so that when people hear ‘Columbia River Arts and Cultural Foundation’ or ‘CRACF,’ they know (what) that is. We’ve been working on some different ideas, including putting together programs that can spotlight local artists as well as bring other groups or performers from out-of-market in so that people can see what we want to do at our facility. We’ll have to rent a local venue, probably the Washburn theater (at Washougal High School) or something like that. We want to be able to do this for the community so that when the time comes to build it, they will come.”

For more information about the CRACF and its fundraising efforts, visit