Resident sees art center in empty Albertsons

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By Vicky Gits

The former Albertsons supermarket on Stagecoach Boulevard might look like an abandoned big-box store to most, but to Russ Campbell, the 51,000-square-foot structure has the makings of the arts and community center that some have been dreaming of for years.

Campbell came up with the idea about a month ago and has been promoting it to arts groups. The proposed project, which would be privately funded, is still in very preliminary stages.

At the moment, there is no money to make the arts center a reality, but Campbell is hoping to find a benefactor with $3 million to $5 million to buy the building and lease it to a nonprofit organization.

The 19-year Evergreen resident hopes to recycle an empty building and the 250 lighted parking spaces, put it back in service to the community and save a few trees.

Campbell is president of Western Business Forum, a marketing, advertising and public relations company based in Evergreen. His wife, Carolyn Campbell, teaches poetry at the Center for the Arts Evergreen and is an artist.

Under his plan, the building would be divided among five purposes: visual arts, stage, conventions and conferences, reception areas, and community rooms and classrooms.

The proposal seems to put Campbell at odds with the Evergreen Park and Recreation District, which has spent more than a decade assembling the land in Buchanan Park for park purposes, including a future community/arts center.

The park district is involved in a $37,000 feasibility study to determine what it would take to build and operate a community/arts center in Buchanan Park. The master plan approved in January describes an arts center consisting of 12,000 to 15,000 square feet and a community center consisting of 30,000 square feet, combined in one building.

The park district repeatedly has said that funding for buildings is not in the current budget and that new buildings are not on the drawing board.

District president Allan Casey said: “The whole reason we are doing a feasibility study is to see if it makes sense. If it makes sense, then it validates the master plan, and we have to stand back and look at the funding.”

“If it makes sense, then we will look at all kinds of alternatives,” Casey said.

The plan to build a community/arts center at Buchanan Park seemed to be gaining steam until a few months ago, when neighbors came to park district board meetings to object to the size of the project and the goals.

“We thought we could provide a sensible, non-controversial venue. There would be no bond issue,” Campbell said. “A lot of people aren’t really comfortable with the public funding arts activities.

“This is a building that’s available. Why should people have to wait for years?” Campbell said. “Approaching this as a citizen, this is cheaper, more immediate. It would seem to solve so many problems and keep Buchanan Park the way it was meant to be as suggested in the bond election.”