Arts group closes in on lot for RAC, turns over to city

By Zorina Barker, Forum Correspondent


The corner lot at Division Street and Forks Avenue will be added to the lot of the Rainforest Arts Center and used for the new building after it was accepted by the city last week.


The corner property has been in the sights for use as a new venue for various local arts. An offer was made by the West Olympic Council of the Arts as the Rainforest Arts Center to buy the lot. The offer was reportedly accepted and the group presented the property to the city at the council’s meeting Sept. 9.


Ellen Matheney and Dr. Stephen Kriebel were there, representing Rainforest Players and West Olympic Council for the Arts, to see it happen.


The city is planning to rebuild the Rainforest Arts Center, which burned last fall, with a $2.1 million budget.


The gift of the property was detailed in Resolution 424. Would the city accept the gift?


Unanimously, the council said, “Yea.”


Mayor Brian Monohon called it a “monumental moment” and stated it was an appropriate time for applause.


Matheney emphasized that there are no conditions, nor specifications for the maintenance of the property. Councilman John Hillcar vocalized great appreciation for the unconditional gift.


Matheney acknowledged aquisition of the property was dependent upon some “fine community contributions.” Kriebel added, “There was a lot of hard work as well as money that got this done.”   


The property will be secured and it is up to the city to build the arts center. City Attorney Rod Fleck announced that at the Spartan Homecoming game, Friday, Sept. 27, the city expects to unveil working design options for citizens to review.


Fleck said the city is trying to get a feel for what the citizens are looking for.


Fleck said the corner lot will help give the city flexibility in designing the new arts center.


“We’ve been designing with the knowledge that it was more likely than not that we would be able to use the corner lot,” Fleck said.


Monohon said he feels the architects in Seattle, NAC, really “get it‚“ and are seeking a building that will be noteworthy in the architectural circles as well as keeping many future generations in mind. The floor shapes are fairly decided — the details that are being looked at right now, such as the size of a kitchen, green room, etc.


The arts council has been negotiating since July with Alaska Financial Co., which bought the lot after it was foreclosed from its last occupant, Dazzled by Twilight.


A building there burned Oct. 29 in a fire caused by an electrical box short in the former arts center building, which was built in 1925 and which once housed the International Order of Odd Fellows.


The theater had 150 seats in its main hall and was used for other community organizations such as a weekly square dance group and a wool spinning circle that lost several looms and spinning wheels in the fire.


The building on the corner lot had been empty since Dazzled by Twilight closed in 2011.


The Odd Fellows lodge was deeded to the city in 1997, and the Rainforest Players had been managing it as the arts center.


The city received a $2.64 million insurance settlement to rebuild the arts center on the lot.


The property was listed for sale by Forks Avenue Real Estate for $74,500. Rainforest Players board member Warren Brown reported in August that the arts council had offered $35,000 for the property and received a counter offer of $71,000.


Matheny on Thursday would not disclose the agreed-upon price because the purchase had not been finalized.


“The only reason we bought it was to give it to the city,” Matheny said.


The arts council had received a number of donations to buy the lot and had received an insurance settlement for props, costumes, lighting equipment and other assets lost in the fire.


“It’s been a real great grass-roots effort,” Matheny said.


Fleck said the addition of the corner lot to the RAC property will allow the city to design the building with a courtyard that could be used for pep rallies and outdoor weekend concerts.


“That corner really allows us to do a lot more in terms of creating a community space,” Fleck said.


The finalized design of the RAC will be unveiled to a joint meeting of the West End Business and Professionals Association and the Forks Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 23 in the Department of Natural Resources conference room, 411 Tillicum Lane.


Fleck said the city hopes to put construction of the building out for bids in early January, with construction slated to begin in April.


The goal is to have the new RAC open by April 2015.

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