Arts center: looking back, pressing forward
This month I'd like to review the opportunity for a community cultural arts center on the Old School House Property. The need for the review is because final decisions are being made by our Mayor and City Council that will permanently impact this property and community.
Last month I mentioned that seven years ago an urban renewal district was formed within the city of Sherwood for the revitalization of our Old Town area. The plan submitted to citizens and the state during the formation of this district stated that cultural arts would be a large factor in the redevelopment of our Old Town area. The Robin Hood Theatre was still standing. The stage had been modified to allow for live theater and movies. Plans were drawn up to renovate the theater as well as the Old School House and create a cultural arts center in Old Town that would draw people and ultimately businesses to serve those individuals. It was an exciting time.
We've lost the Robin Hood Theatre and now it appears that we will lose the Old School House. Money from the urban renewal district has been used to build the library and city hall, build and turf an indoor soccer field, renovate the streets and draw up plans for more street renovations. Two years ago some urban renewal funds were actually used to turf the field at the high school. After the project was complete and the money spent it was discovered that the use of urban renewal funds was not an appropriate source of funding for that expenditure. To rectify the mistake system development charges were used to fund the field and repay the urban renewal district. Then those funds that were repaid to the district were used to purchase the Old School House property into the urban renewal district so that the property could be developed as a community cultural arts center. This had been a difficult spot for the Parks Board to be in as they still had many of their own goals to complete and were essentially given no choice in this decision, but they were gracious and said publicly their board was also convinced that the idea of a community cultural arts center on this property would be a wonderful asset for the entire community for decades. It was an exciting time.
The intervening years have been truthfully brutal. I have personally learned that although many funding sources for this type of project exist, none of the sources want to jump on board until the project is certain and well underway. I have also learned that to make a project of this scope and magnitude successful it will take someone who is paid and experienced to make it happen. When the city wanted a new park, they hired a consultant who began working with the parks board volunteers and they built beautiful Snyder Park. When the library was built, Ann Rosenberry, a full time staff member and the library board worked for years with paid professionals to achieve the facility we have now. Because the Sherwood Cultural Arts Commission is unique and this project is different in scope and operational aspects, it's been an animal no one was quite sure how to tame.
Last December, I admitted defeat to city council. I said I was defeated in the process of funding and planning, but I was NOT admitting that a cultural arts center on the Old School House property was a bad idea. I merely acknowledged that I - a citizen volunteer - and the five other members of my commission could not make the project a reality. The good news in my message was that the Mayor and city council could make the project a reality. Just like the park, the library, and the fields, if they chose to make this project a priority and direct staff to dedicate the appropriate resources, the community cultural arts center would be as much of a reality as any of the other projects they've undertaken.
This could be an exciting time for cultural arts if this project is not abandoned again. Funding for a community cultural arts center in Sherwood is actually looking bright. The urban renewal district has about $1 million to $1.5 million earmarked for cultural arts. The city is in the process of selling off some properties to developers that will bring "a windfall" of up to $4 million. What I would like to publicly challenge city council to do is allocate some of those dollars for a community cultural arts center. Once the process is underway, I would like to see council direct staff to hire a grant writer and start going after grants that can help fund the center. I envision a building with about 60 percent of the space being leased to cover the operational expenses of the building. I'd love to see a music store, an architectural design firm, a gallery, or other arts businesses become tenants. These are all businesses that have already approached the Sherwood Cultural Arts Commission about space in the proposed facility. I'd also like to see space available to rent to our existing arts and music businesses that are outgrowing their current locations and other art educators in our community who have expressed a need for teaching and recital space.
The real advantage to a center like this is that just like the existing arts based businesses in Old Town, it will draw people to this urban area that have time and money to spend. What business would not want to be by a music school with more than 600 students coming and going in a week's time? We have citizens from Albany, Salem, and all over the Portland metro area coming to take music and art lessons in Old Town Sherwood. Many times parents are waiting and find themselves visiting the Sherwood Coffee Company, the Railroad Antique Street Mall, the library or other Old Town businesses. This is economic impact. It's not surprising. It's the reason the Oregon Arts Commission tells us that from their studies of communities in Oregon, $1 of investment by a city in cultural arts yields a return of between $2.50 to $4.50 in economic impact to that city. This yield in return brings new business and in our case revitalizes an economic engine that has not been functioning well for some time.
Mayor Keith Mays and City Council are right now planning for the future of Old Town Sherwood and the Old School House property. Talk of immediately tearing down the school house is prominent at some meetings. Sale of the property is right behind in those discussions. I would like to publicly urge our elected officials to carefully consider their decisions. Once we lose the Old School House property -- which is close to Stella Olsen Park, a center for arts activity in the summer, a stone's throw from three schools, and has onsite parking space available and close access to more parking -- we cannot get it back.
Two commissions of citizen volunteers have expressed their desire that this project become a reality. Seven years ago we paid many thousands of dollars to a consulting firm that said cultural arts would be a great benefit to Old Town's weak economic engine. We have not followed that plan, but cultural arts has impacted Old Town in a very significant way just by the independent arts businesses who have chosen and sacrificed to be in Old Town and our existing arts programming. Let's expand on their success. It is time to be heard if you have an opinion about a community cultural arts center in Old Town. It is not too late to make a difference For Arts' Sake.