Plans for a $20 million performing-arts theater in Mercer Island’s Town Center — about a half-mile south of the city’s future light-rail station — have picked up momentum just one year after fundraising began.
With more than a third of the $12 million necessary to break ground next year already raised, conceptual designs have been released for the Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA). The venue, which would be built on city property just northwest of Mercerdale Park, would accommodate indoor and outdoor plays, concerts, recitals, films and dance performances. The design shows a 23,000-square-foot facilityfeaturing a 350-seat mainstage concert hall, 150-seat recital hall, 100-seat black-box theater, art gallery, cafe, bar, offices and reception spaces.
Architect Lesley Bain will lead the rest of design development by Framework Cultural Placemaking and Owen Richards Architects.
The center’s anchor tenant would be Youth Theatre Northwest, which was displaced from its 30-year Mercer Island home last year when the city’s school district reclaimed its property for a new school. Louise Kincaid, MICA’s executive director, says several other Seattle-area performance companies such as ACT Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Book-It Repertory Theatre and Teatro ZinZanni have expressed interest in holding performances at the venue.
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“We really want to activate the Town Center with this,” said Bain. “The building and park will be well integrated in this great spot between a wooded hillside and the open Town Center — we want to bring out the best in all of these things.”
To that end, the nonprofit performing-arts center would supplement city activities such as the farmers market, Summer Celebration and the Mostly Music in the Park series. Private events and receptions are expected to help keep the center financially sustainable, Kincaid said.
They want to avoid the fundraising rut that an effort to build a $180 million performing-arts facility in Bellevue called the Tateuchi Center ran into during and after the recession. Seven years after fundraising started for the proposed 2,000-seat theater, it is still less than half-funded. The center may receive an injection of public funding soon though: the city of Bellevue ballot measure and public funding partnerships to help revive its fundraising campaign.
Meanwhile, millions in public and private funds have been pledged to smaller Eastside theaters such as Bellevue’s Theatre at Meydenbauer Center. Last year, the Meydenbauer Center received a $12.5 million injection of public money for exterior and interior renovations.
Kincaid said she’s optimistic about rounding up the additional $15.5 million need to open MICA in 2017 because its board is made up of a Nordstrom senior executive, a former director of the Museum of Flight, executive director of Teatro ZinZanni, trustee at Cornish College of the Arts, Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz and several well-connected lawyers and developers.
So far, parking concerns have not stalled support for MICA. Kincaid says parking is still being hashed out, but she expects solutions to include extra spaces created by restriping 77th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 32nd Street, after-hours arrangements with local business’s lots, and a shuttle that can be run from the park and ride lots on the north side of Town Center.
Sound Transit recently offered to build at least 200 more parking spaces north of Town Center and Interstate 90, but hundreds of Mercer Island residents concerned that this would eat too much land out of Luther Burbank Park quickly shut down the proposal.