OLYMPIA - An unusual performance took center stage at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night: a meeting of the Olympia City Council.
The council met with the center’s board of directors and staff to discuss “long-term sustainable funding” for the center, which needs an emergency $1.6 million exterior repair and has been losing city revenue in the recession.
The council took no formal action, but, together with center officials, brainstormed ideas to generate more money for the center. The options ranged from higher ticket surcharges to fundraising to a city bond issue. The city owns the building and is responsible for major maintenance.
Councilwoman Karen Rogers suggested a community fundraiser. Councilwoman Rhenda Strub agreed, noting that it had been 17 years since the last big capital campaign. “I believe you have to commit to a capital drive,” she said. “It’s been 17 years, and I think there’s the capacity in this community to step up.”
But the center staff expressed reservations about tapping people for money in a city where other major fund drives are under way in addition to the center’s ongoing quest for private contributions.
Councilman Stephen Buxbaum said the group needed to separate the short-term emergency fix from long-term sustainable funding for the center.
“I think we absolutely need to make sure the center is self-sustaining,” he said.
Mayor Doug Mah said that the capacity of the center and how it’s been used should be examined.
Board member Oscar Soule noted that Executive Director Tom Iovanne had given a detailed report of the center’s activities.
Even with the decline in city support, the center’s overall cash revenue has increased this fiscal year, according to the report, to $1.67 million for 2010-11 from $1.6 million in 2009-10. Iovanne noted that ticket sales climbed to a high point in 2009-10, with $600,266 in revenue.
“I think we’ve done a good job,” Soule said.
The city estimates the 983-seat center, which dates to 1985, needs $1.6 million in exterior repairs due to a failing exterior material called EIFS. It is cracking and water is seeping inside the building, occasionally pooling.
But there is no money budgeted to do the repairs, which left the city with some tough options – defer some city maintenance projects, sell assets, find money in the budget or finance the project.
The center left a position unfilled, instituted staff furloughs of two days per month, suspended paid holidays, cut health care contributions and suspended a parking/bus pass benefit.