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Arts center still needed in Gresham

While supporters of a proposed Gresham Center for the Arts have encountered more than their share of challenges in the past few years, the need for such a facility has not declined.

That's why it's just as important today as it was five years ago to embrace the latest plans for an arts center in downtown Gresham. New designs for the center were released Monday. They show an even more ambitious project than the one that foundered last year.

Now, instead of a single $14 million structure between Northeast Second and Third streets, art-center backers want two - with each exceeding the price tag of the original building. But even as the Center for the Arts Foundation loses ground on the cost of construction, it is gaining momentum with segments of the community that might become key allies in this project.

The previous design had its limitations and its critics. The plans unveiled Monday call for a more flexible space that can be used by multiple groups. The city of Gresham and the Center for the Arts Foundation propose to start with a public plaza between Second and Third streets and Hood and Kelly avenues. This $750,000 plaza, to be built next year with city and grant money, would be a community gathering spot - think Pioneer Square without the urban edge. Such an amenity would be a worthwhile addition to downtown, with or without the arts center.

The next stage would be construction, possibly as early as 2008, of a 37,400-square-foot building on the western portion of the property. That structure, estimated to cost $16 million to $18 million, would be a performance and events center. The foundation and the city believe it will generate more revenue than a pure performing arts center and therefore be more likely to cover operating costs.

Another building, on the site's east end, would be built seven or more years from now and could house a 700-seat theater. While the prospect of a second building might stir excitement among the arts community, the first proposed structure has its practical side. The design would accommodate banquets and events, as well as live performances. That means dinners and auctions that have grown too large for East County venues can return home once the center is built.

The Center for the Arts Foundation has a daunting task before it - raising up to $18 million. The vision, however, is more clearly defined than before, and the goals remain steadfast: Supporters want Gresham to provide a regional home for the arts, and they see a significant benefit for historic downtown Gresham.

East County donors can get this project rolling. Their contributions will be supplemented by grants from foundations and other sources. Despite the false starts of the past, the latest plans ought to be greeted with enthusiasm, and with a serious commitment to accomplish the job this time.