Washington Center asks city for a dip into endowment fund

Staff writerSeptember 17, 2013 

The evil Carabosse, portrayed by Anna Thornton, arrives with her minions in Act 1 asBallet Northwest runs through their dress rehearsal as they prepare to present Tchaikovsky's classic ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.(STEVE BLOOM/staff photographer)

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian. Buy Photo

The Washington Center for the Performing Arts is asking the Olympia City Council to draw $200,000 from the center’s endowment fund to help cover operating expenses for the next year.

It’s not the first time.

Since 2011, the center has already asked the council to draw down $300,000 from the principal of the endowment, which is now about $1.5 million, according to a city staff report.

The City Council, which controls the purse strings of the endowment, will consider the request at its meeting at 7 tonight at City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave. E.

Jill Barnes, who started as the center’s executive director this year, said the center has a balanced budget for the current fiscal year, which started in July. But she said the extra $200,000 would give the center a financial cushion for the following year.

“It is definitely our intention not to continue to make these requests,” she said. “We want to have a strong, solid foundation as we enter this new era with our new building.”

Barnes noted that the economic downturn has hurt nonprofit cultural organizations. But she said the center plans to apply for more grants and increase marketing to generate more ticket sales.

Two of the Washington Center’s important sources of income — interest from its endowment plus 2 percent of the city’s lodging tax revenue — have been declining over the past several years, from a combined $385,465 in 2008 to $266,370 last year.

The proposed endowment draw is unrelated to the major exterior replacement underway at the theater at 512 Washington St. SE, which is costing the city about $4.6 million.

The building is getting a new exterior that includes brick and stone, a front canopy with lighting, custom windows and stone cladding above the canopy, glass doors, and a permanent marquee sign. Work is expected to wrap up this fall.

Olympia owns the building and is responsible for its exterior and major maintenance. The nonprofit organization that runs the center is responsible for programming and for taking care of most of the interior. The center is asking to use the endowment money for the nonprofit’s operating expenses.

The endowment itself is not as big as was intended. It was created in 1985 from the proceeds of the sale of the old city landfill at Black Lake Boulevard and Cooper Point Road, currently the site of the Haggen supermarket (formerly Top Food and Drug). But the original purchaser declared bankruptcy before completing all the terms of the sale, a city staff report says.

The city has been attempting to sell the remaining property, which would provide extra cash for the endowment.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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