The Anacortes Cinemas movie theater will soon be under new ownership, and plans include a renovation and expansion aimed at turning it into an active arts center — films included.
The Anacortes Arts Festival is buying the building, which sits on city-owned property at 415 O Ave, for $550,000, with closing set for the end of May. Community members and organizations are collaborating on the project, Arts Festival Director Meredith McIlmoyle said.
Film fans will still be able to take in film screenings. A lease with the city stipulates that films be shown on the property. While those may not include the usual box office releases, the films chosen will fit in well for the arts center, such as independent films, film festivals and special film-themed events, McIlmoyle said.
Mayor Matt Miller said that while the city owns the land, it has nothing to do with operating a business there and does not own the building. Still, he’s enthusiastic about this project and to see what the Arts Festival does with it.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to improve that area,” he said.
The goal is to create a multi-story arts center for use by several groups and also add apartments.
The cost for the entire project, including renovations and upgrades, will come after contractors review the purchase, McIlmoyle said.
The festival has been looking at the possibility since last fall and actually became the third bidder on the building, but the other two purchases fell through, McIlmoyle said.
About 75% of the purchase cost will likely come from local, state and federal grants, McIlmoyle said. The rest will be funded through community donations, mainly brought about through a capital fundraising drive this summer. Those will be donations; there will be no new taxes associated with the payment of the project, she said.
A few collaborating partners expected to join with the Anacortes Arts Festival on the center include Anacortes Music Project, Anacortes Community Theatre and Fidalgo DanceWorks. There are other partners, as well, she said.
Coming out of the pandemic, the community needs a place for kids to have a place to create art, ACT Board President T.J. Fantini said.
The theater lost the space for its Class ACT program during the pandemic, so this is another space it can use.
“This is going to be another place where kids can learn about and perform the theater arts,” he said.
Partner community groups will be able to use this space for their own programs, and the community will be able to fill in the gaps and find ways to use it, too, he said.
Anacortes Music Project is thrilled to be involved in making a physical space that promotes and celebrates the creative community, Sommer Carter, Anacortes Music Project director, said in an email.
“The conversation around doing this has been long in the making,” she wrote. “Having the structure and collaboration of our organizations and our community members is a key piece to building this dream. It really feels like the right time to invest together in a building and gathering hub that honors the creativity that our town is so rich in.”
Melissa Turnage, with Fidalgo DanceWorks, said the dance school is excited to see what the space could provide in the future.
“There is a unique culture and support of arts in this town,” she said. “We look forward to narrowing down that collective vision to see what it’s going to look like as the community grows.”
Community input meetings are coming up in May at the Anacortes Community Theatre to offer people a chance to weigh in, McIlmoyle said. Meetings are set for 6-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, and 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday, May 26.
This arts center will help continue the cultural integrity and artistic creativity that the community wants, McIlmoyle said.
“This and the creative district designation we’re seeking will give Anacortes an anchor and a hub for art and culture to exist,” she said. “We’re hoping it just radiates out from here.”
The creative district designation is a state designation that will help the city’s creative economy collaborate and opens up granting opportunities, McIlmoyle said. It is not a taxing district.
Other organizations may want to get involved and create more opportunities for the arts to flourish here, she said.
While final plans will be determined by those public input sessions, the festival has a general outline of what it wants to see. That includes an expansion out to Fifth Street and removing the inner walkway behind the current building but leaving the sidewalk as it is now.
The building’s entrance will stay in the same place, but the parking lot would change to handle increased use, McIlmoyle said. The building is expected to have a gallery space in the front, an elevator and remodeled bathrooms.
As of now, the plan is to complete the first space by June 2023. It would house the two primary studio or classroom spaces, complete with a movable wall so users could adjust the space, McIlmoyle said.
Then, the first two stories of the building would be finished in September 2023.
That space would include the primary performance area for the arts center. It’s where the current biggest movie theater is, though renovation would make it even larger. It would hold about 199 seats to watch a show and could be used for dance performances, concerts and theater performances and possibly for community events.
That space also will be used for film showings, as required by the land-use agreement with the city.
The second space would have a conference room for the collaborating organizations that also could be reserved by the community. There would be glass windows and a counter overlooking the studio space so parents could watch classes and a place for VIP seating to watch the performance space.
By June 2024, the third floor should be completed, McIlmoyle said. That space would include room for the Anacortes Music Project and some apartments.
The AMP space will include its lending library, classrooms for music lessons and space for recording and for its radio station.
“Then we would have living-wage apartments for creative economy employees,” McIlmoyle said.
Those apartments may include space for an artist in residence and another in the style of an AirBnb for someone stopping in to attend classes or events at the art center.
Another floor is possible, depending on what the community wants, McIlmoyle said.
The project is also a job creator, she said. It will require a building manager and part-time staff to help manage events. That doesn’t include the artists, performers and others who use the space, she said.
This center will also help downtown businesses, as the center’s various uses draw people downtown for various programs, classes and performances.
“In addition to film and dance and theater and music, we are looking to offer adult and kid art classes of all mediums,” McIlmoyle said.
The collaborating partners are looking at the possibilities of after-school art programs and summer camps to help bridge a current activities gap for kids in the community.
The performance space will have moveable seating to open it up for community events. While it doesn’t replace the large Transit Shed, which the Port of Anacortes plans to return to its intended industrial use, the arts center could host smaller events with roughly 100 to 150 people, McIlmoyle said.
The opportunities for this space are endless, which is why community input will be requested, she said.
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