by Lindy Steeves
The Harney County Arts in Education Foundation met on Thursday, Aug. 8 to discuss the proposed Performing Arts and Education Center.
Debby Peckham, founder of the foundation, opened the meeting and accepted a letter of support from Eastern Oregon University (EOU). The letter also stated that the committee was allowed to use the EOU logo for any marketing or fundraising purposes. Peckham then introduced Don Stastny of Stastny: Architect LLC. in Portland.
Stastny began his presentation by saying: “I’ve been practicing architecture for 40 years and I don’t know of another building I’ve fallen so in love with.”
Stastny said that he had designed the building to mimic and represent the surrounding landscape of Harney County and finished his presentation by saying: “We are trying to embrace all of Harney County. It [the building] is for Burns.”
In earlier estimates of the size and scope of the center, the building was proposed at 25,000 square feet. However, in the newest blueprints of the center, the total area comes to more than 57,000 square feet.
The proposed building contains a recital hall, performance hall, performance support facility, art center, common space, and a music room.
The Performing Arts and Education Center would sit on the corner of Saginaw Avenue and Roe Davis Drive. The center would be used for daily art and music classes, and would feature the facilities to hold recitals and art galleries from local artists.
Several of the board and community members in attendance showed their approval for the new building design. They remarked that it was “beautiful” and that it was not a matter of “if” the project was finished, but “when.”
Stan Foster of Public Affairs Research CnsInt (PARC) spoke next and warned the committee against setting their hopes too high for the project.
“One of the things we’re going to be doing together in this capital campaign is called a ‘case for support.’ So I want you guys to think how you’re going to make a compelling argument for $15-20 million investment in Burns, Oregon.
It has to be a compelling case. It has to be compelling to your local donors. It has to be compelling to the funders.” Foster said.
Foster also said that the committee had to prove that the center would be sustainable and that they could “keep the lights on” in terms of long-term usage.
“The days of ‘building it and they will come’ are over.” Foster said.
He then gave the example of the $6.8 million Ashland Natural History Museum that closed after two years of operation. He warned that the funders and investors from that project had been “burned” and would be leery to start another, more expensive, project.
Foster said that because of the size of the project, it was likely that the committee could receive energy tax credit for about $4-6 million. However, the money had to be raised before receiving the tax credit.
The committee questioned Foster about where he had come up with the $15-20 million figure.
Foster replied that it could vary greatly and that his figures were based strictly on square footage. He said that the exact figure wouldn’t be known until construction documents, techniques, and materials were figured. He also said that the cost could even run higher depending on the additional sound systems, acoustic systems, and technologies that could be added.
“The thing we have to do on this facility is we have to show that we’ve got a viable strategy, not only to raise the capital, which I’m going to tell you right now is going to take a significant local contribution. This is something we haven’t had to do with other local projects, but we have to show how we’re going to get from here [planning] to there [construction].” Foster said.
He also warned that whatever amount the committee told the funders, they would be held to.
“You need to work with Don and decide a minimum amount that you can move forward with to construction.” Foster said, “You have to take all of your energy and enthusiasm for this project and channel it into: how are we going to earn this money?”
Foster also warned of other difficulties that may be faced in the funding of the building.
“You also know that people in the Willamette Valley believe that Eastern Oregon begins and ends in Bend.” Foster said.
“I’m sorry but that’s insulting.” board member Sharla Calkins said.
“I’m not personally saying that, I’m saying that that is an attitude you’re going to have to deal with.” Foster said.
Peckham said that she was excited to sit down with Foster and discuss the plans that they had to earn money for the project, and assured him that the committee had thought of the difficulties that they would inevitably face. She also said that they had concrete ideas for the future.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m on your guys’ side. I’m just trying to prepare you for what’s ahead…I have no doubt that you have the energy and the talent to get this done.” Foster said.
Board members then expressed concerns with the reality of cost. Not only in initial construction, but also in maintenance and simply heating the entire facility.
There were also concerns about the size, the appearance, the entrance, and how people would move around while inside.
One advisory board member said that she was concerned with the size of the building in a county with a shrinking population of 7,000.
“We know this county doesn’t have that kind of money. We knew that when we started. What we’re trying to do is tap sources. There is lots of money running around the United States of America and amazingly we have lots of connections with people outside and in Oregon.” Peckham said, “We are trying very hard to touch base with donors who would support a project of this size in Harney County.”
Peckham also said that the committee was looking to the project as a source of economic development for the county. She said that they held the hope that the building would bring outside tourism and revenue for the community. She also said that the building would be an educational center for the youth and a permanent place to display artists’ galleries. It would also be a place for musicians who needed to practice and perform.
The meeting ended with Peckham and the board scheduling to meet with Foster and discuss financial options. The next event that is scheduled by the Harney County Arts in Education Foundation is the Portland Youth Philharmonic Concert on October 26. They are hoping the concert will provide an example of the need for the Performing Arts and Education Center.