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Study finds support for modest community/arts center

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By Vicky Gits

Evergreen would be able to support a relatively modest 12,000- to 14,000-square-foot community and arts center — costing between $7 million and $8 million, including bond interest — say consultants hired by the park district and Center for the Arts Evergreen.

The study was commissioned to examine the market demand and the potential cost of building an arts-related structure as envisioned by the Buchanan Park master plan, which was approved by the Evergreen Park and Recreation District on Jan. 22, 2008.

The proposed footprint is situated to the northeast of Buchanan Rec Center and could be built as a stand-alone structure or attached to the center, as suggested in the report.

Economic Planning Systems Inc. of Denver, with OZ Architecture, conducted the feasibility study and market analysis at the request of both the Evergreen Park and Recreation District and the Center for the Arts Evergreen, which agreed to pay $15,000 and $12,500, respectively, to fund the research.

The results of the investigation conducted over the last six months were unveiled at a public meeting on Oct. 20 at Buchanan Rec Center and are available on the park district website, www.evergreenparkandrecreation.com.

About 60 people attended the meeting, including about 15 from the two boards of directors involved.

The purpose of the $37,500 study was to define the cost and nature of the combination community center and arts center that Evergreen residents are willing to support in Buchanan Park.

However, the arts center is only a vision, and there is no money in the budget to pay for it. A project of this magnitude would most likely require a taxpayer vote.

Some neighbors in the vicinity of Buchanan Park objected to the idea of 30,000 square feet of new buildings, as proposed in the original Buchanan Park master plan.

Some of the other major findings of the 50-page study:

• There is no need at this time for a large, multipurpose event space in the Evergreen area. Evergreen is served by at least nine competitive facilities for weddings, banquets and receptions, including the Evergreen Lake House. “None of these facilities is suffering due to lack of capacity issues,” the study said.

• The current arts center location in the Miller House is inadequate and undersized for the arts organizations that have the desire to expand their classroom and gallery space.

• Enough demand exists for non-exercise-related space to justify creating a multifunction room, such as a dance studio and meeting room of 1,800 square feet.

• A survey of other facilities revealed that most community/arts centers have large receptions and gallery spaces with room for banquets, but there were no other good examples of recreation centers with gallery and arts exhibit spaces.

• The suggested building would have four classrooms, a large gallery (5,300 square feet), kitchen, dance studio/multifunction room and office space.

• Such a building would produce an operating loss of $1,763, not including debt service. A stand-alone facility would have a deficit of about $30,000 due to entry staffing costs. This conclusion assumes the arts organization pays $58,000 a year to lease space.

Long-term prospects

In interviews with park district board members after the meeting, the consensus was they doubted that, given the cost, there was much support for a new building or a tax increase at this time and maybe not for several years.

“There were no surprises for me,” said Kit Darrow, a member of the park district board. “I thought (the consultant) very clearly said, ‘Don’t forget to merge this with the needs and the demands for the rest of the district.’ ”

“I think Evergreen has a fantastic park and recreation program. It’s more elaborate than many communities our size, and I am personally pleased with what we have. However, if enough citizens say we want a certain amenity, then I’m fine with it,” Darrow said. “It has to be sustainable financially over decades. It can’t be break-even every year. The second part is determining if it’s what the citizens want.”

Modest ambition

“I was pleased to see a very modest size. But the siting is not that attractive. If we did that, it would preclude any future expansion for sweat-recreation type activity,” said Alan Casey, president of the park district board.

“What was proposed is the district fund the entire construction and have CAE as a tenant. I think if this is going to be a combined center, we need CAE to share in the construction costs,” Casey said.

“We are going to be in a maintenance mode for a number of years. I think we are going to focus on what we have. I think we are several years away from doing anything, because of the economy.”

Taking a hard look

Board member Janet Doyle urged a cautious approach.

“We have to take a hard look at any type of building program. Especially from what I could see, it would run at an operating loss,” Doyle said.

The next step is the community needs analysis, which will attempt to ascertain whether the community has a desire to have such a facility and whether residents are willing to pay for it.

“It’s now time for the arts community to take a hard look at their financial situation and explore alternatives to a new building so those (ideas) are also on the table,” Doyle said.

Doyle said the idea of converting the old Albertsons building into an arts center is something the CAE should consider. “If I were part of CAE, I would be exploring all the options,” she said.

Doyle is not supportive of the park district partnering with a private enterprise in a building project. “I’m personally not sure that would be the way to go,” she said.

Board member Roger Hoaglund said the study documented the need for a building to serve the “passive” recreation needs that a maturing population is going to require, if not now, maybe in five years.

Like the other board members, Hoaglund was skeptical about going to the public at this time to raise money, given the economy.

The feasibility study was the result of the creation of the Buchanan Park master plan, which took years to develop.

After much discussion, the Evergreen Park and Recreation District board decided in February to go forward with the study on a 3-2 vote.

“Single structure, mutual need”

Board member Peter Eggers said the study confirmed there was a need for a building to serve a multitude of uses, including arts-related and non-sweat-type activities.

“I think there is still a way that Center for the Arts Evergreen and the park district can find a way to utilize a single structure for their mutual need. Some people would disagree with that. … So we’ll see.” In the immediate future Eggers thinks budget issues will prevent thinking about any costly ventures.

During May, the consultants toured various facilities in Evergreen that have similar functions to those being proposed for the arts center, to determine the level of use and the types of users. They also interviewed most of the potential arts groups and other potential users.

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or at vicky@evergreenco.com.