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B&B forges plan to buy new theater

Hillsboro-based company likely to secure own space for performances


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Bag&Baggage Productions will transform the old Wells Fargo bank building on East Main Street into space for its theater offerings if a deal goes through in Hillsboro next week.If all goes as planned, Bag&Baggage Productions will be moving its offices and getting to work planning the remodel of its very own theater this year.

Bag&Baggage is one of Washington County’s largest and most successful theater production companies, drawing patrons from across the county and neighboring counties.

Bag&Baggage and the city of Hillsboro will jointly propose an agreement to the Hillsboro Economic Development Commission (HEDC) Tuesday night, July 7, that would allow the city of Hillsboro to enter into a loan agreement with Bag&Baggage for the purchase of the old Wells Fargo bank building on East Main Street. Theater production company leaders want to turn it into their own permanent performing arts space.

Currently, Bag&Baggage rents office and storage space and offers performances out of the Venetian Theatre & Bistro on Main Street.

Bag&Baggage and city officials are working from a background study completed for the city of Hillsboro by AMS Planning & Research, Jill Burnette Consulting and Opsis Architecture, which looked at options for purchasing the Wells Fargo building from its current owner, Tokola Properties. Tokola developed the 4th Main mixed-used apartment/retail building, and originally planned to develop the Wells Fargo building — which has been vacant for years — as a site for retail businesses.

Paid back in full

If the HEDC approves the plan, the city of Hillsboro will put up $775,000 from Urban Renewal District funds, which can be used for capital projects within the downtown Hillsboro area that support commercial, industrial and mixed-used improvements. Bag&Baggage, which plans to take over ownership of the building, will pay back the city in full over the next 20 years.

If Bag&Baggage defaults on the payments, building ownership would revert to the city.

The city’s help will make buying the building possible for Bag&Baggage, said Scott Palmer, the nonprofit company’s artistic director. Bag&Baggage won’t have to make payments until 2017, and the interest rate on the loan will be 1 percent.

The property has been appraised at $830,000, and the value is expected to increase to $1.1 million after improvements are completed.

Having a professional theater group is crucial to the city and to the revitalization of downtown, said Mark Clemons, the city’s economic development director.

“We think it’s a great deal,” Clemons said.

Representatives from the city and Bag&Baggage see the deal as mutually beneficial. Bag&Baggage will stay in downtown Hillsboro, where Palmer said the troupe wants to be, in a permanent home that will allow the company to grow artistically and financially.

The theater will also continue to draw visitors to the downtown area — not only from Hillsboro, but from all over the metropolitan area, which provides a significant economic boost to the city.

City officials have been working on creating an arts district in downtown Hillsboro. Currently, they also support the Washington County Museum, the Walters Cultural Arts Center, HART Theatre and Sequoia Gallery + Studios, to name a few.

“We’re feeling very pleased and grateful,” Palmer said. “We all had the same goal, which always makes it easier.”

The likely possibility of a permanent home comes just in time for Palmer, who founded Bag&Baggage and has been working to solidify the company’s future in downtown Hillsboro. The Venetian, the venue for most Bag&Baggage productions, is for sale.

If the new owners aren’t open to hosting Bag&Baggage’s shows, there aren’t any other local options, Palmer said, and they’d have to close their doors.

Many communities would like to have Bag&Baggage, said city of Hillsboro Public Affairs Manager Patrick Preston, so city leaders are happy to help the theater company stay in Hillsboro.

Securing their own space would help Bag&Baggage save money on rent costs and would consolidate the company’s offices, performance stage, rehearsal space and storage.

Palmer said the company currently has little control over scheduling for its shows. If a play turns out to be more successful than expected — such as last fall’s “Dial M for Murder” — it cannot extend the show, squashing opportunities to make extra dollars.

150 seats

A theater in the old Wells Fargo location would hold about 150 seats, which is the current average audience size for a Bag&Baggage play. There would also be room to add additional seating.

More shows could mean significantly more income. In addition, with its own space, B&B staff could offer classes and workshops; sell its own concessions; and make money by renting out the space.

Part of the agreement indicates the city will be able to rent out the space for special events at cost.

In addition, nonprofits that receive grants from the Hillsboro Arts & Culture Council will also receive discounts on space rental.

Palmer plans to use Bag&Baggage’s newfound access to a larger, permanent space to expand show runs, workshops, community involvement and youth outreach.

That’s another thing that helped secure the city’s involvement — Bag&Baggage’s community value. Currently, Bag&Baggage offers free tickets to high school students and offers internships to Hillsboro high school students.

Right now, B&B is forced to turn some internship applicants away because of a lack of capacity to accommodate all of them, Palmer said.

Palmer is hoping the space expansion will lead to the growth of the theater company, which will in turn create more partnerships in the community and more diverse theater offerings and programs.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the art,” he said.

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