City of Vancouver To Slocum House Theater, “Bah Humbug”

by lewwaters

For the past 45 years, Slocum House Theater has been performing community plays in the renovated Italianate villa style home since it was saved from the wrecking ball and moved to its current location in Esther Short Park by volunteers of the Old Slocum House Company in 1966. Volunteers of the Old Slocum House Theater Company with cooperation from the Fort Vancouver Historical Society accomplished the renovation of the then century old home in 1972.

Money was raised for the project by presenting plays and manning an automobile license station. Currently, the Theater shares the building with the Farmers Market, who maintains an office upstairs.

The Non-Profit Theater Company leases the home from the City of Vancouver, paying $635 a month with the City responsible for repairs to the building, an arrangement that has been beneficial to the community for many years and charges a general admission price of $13 for a play, $11 for seniors and children 12 and under.

We also know that the city, struggling during this continuing “Great Recession” is experiencing budgetary problems. Some are of their own making many feel and some due to the depressed economy. Everywhere we seem to look, taxes and fees are being raised to cover the expenses of the city and to continue pursuing expensive projects many citizens feel are unnecessary.

I can only imagine the shock felt by the Slocum House Theater Board, realizing their lease expires December 31, 2011 to recently receive a draft agreement proposal from the city informing them that their monthly rental fee is to be increased by 400%, from the current $635 a month to $2500 a month! Such an increase is well above their ability to pay at this time.

I do not know just who at the city wrote the draft or decided that the rent must be raised to such an astronomical amount, but the draft has signature blocks for City Manager Eric Holmes, who just received a very nice pay increase that even the Columbian questions during these economic times, as well as the city clerk and the city attorney.

Bear in mind that Holmes’ wages being increased to $167,152 annually (plus benefits) or his deserving such an increase at this time has no direct bearing on this issue. It only indicates some of the ways our tax dollars are being spent currently.

We read in the draft proposal a long list of what the city has done in regards to Slocum House and the surrounding neighborhood since the home was first moved to Esther Short Park that gives me cause to think as we also read,

“The [Slocum House Theater] Company is currently the primary tenant of the Slocum House; however, the Company agrees to amicably reside with other suitable lessees or tenants when, and if, the City enters into additional House Use Agreements.”

An appeal to the community was sent out that included,

“The city states that they have already been approached by a business that can afford their ‘market rates’.”

In 2 meetings held earlier this year with the city, the Theater was informed they could expect a “small” increase, the city desiring to achieve “market value” gradually over a few years. A 400% increase to a community oriented non-profit with 2 weeks notice is not my idea of gradual or small.

The city has claimed an expense of $30,000 a year spent on Slocum House and I am waiting on a breakdown of those expenses, hopefully sometime this week.

I am also told of needed maintenance and repairs to the structure that the Theater Company would buy the materials and the city would use their people to do the work, capable volunteers being prevented from doing the work and saving the city some money due to “union issues.”

The Theater Company has agreed to take over the utilities and insurance and has been told they could rent the building out for special events to help increase funding to cover expenses.

Council member Jack Burkman said in a short facebook discussion,

“I know there has been an ongoing conversation with the Slocum House group over much of this year. The city is looking at all expenses and the best use of city assets, including this one. The city has been spending quite a bit of money on this venue and isn’t in the position to continue to do that.”

The “ongoing discussion over much of this year” amounts to 2 meetings.

I concur with looking over all expenses in these dark economic times. But, I am also reminded of this same city council recently granting a Millionaire Developer a tax abatement amounting to over $1 Million and their ability to come up with $250,000 in hopes of the construction of yet another park, while many of the others parks around the city wilt away from lack of funding, neighborhood volunteers also being prevented from performing the needed maintenance themselves.

I am also reminded of the overly ambitious pursuit of a Waterfront Development and transportation projects that could drive many citizens and businesses towards bankruptcy.

Well known community activist Temple Lentz states,

“Yes, the city budget is horrible and it’s easy to see why they would want to raise the rent. However — our city far too often makes the mistake of selling off our greatest assets instead of preserving and supporting them.”

It is said a “business interest” has approached the city, willing to pay the new “market value” for the use of Slocum House. That raises the question of would such a new arrangement that would shove the Theater out of their long standing home in Esther Short Park violate the stipulation made when Esther Short donated the land for the Park to the city back in 1855, that it be “a public plaza,” a “public gathering space?”

This might seem odd coming from a pro-business conservative, but  we also have a sense of community. The Slocum House Community Theater has served the community for over 45 years now. Such plays and events as they host not only provides citizens with entertainment, but it gives citizens within the community with an artistic talent an outlet within the community to utilize their talents.

The City Council would be wise to preserve this historic landmark and initiate a more reasonable lease agreement with the Theater Company allowing them to continue serving our community.

I urge you all to read the appeal to the community from Slocum House Theater and contact the mayor and each city council member, expressing support for Slocum House Theater and not to evict them from Slocum House.

UPDATE: A Columbian article with an email reply on this matter they received from City Manager Eric Holmes is here

City Council member Jack Burkman tries to defuse community outrage here

17 Comments to “City of Vancouver To Slocum House Theater, “Bah Humbug””

  1. It’s kinda funny that the city would consider this high of an increase since property values downtown have been in the toilet for a long time and show no signs of rising. Remember that the old Cop shop sold for a measley $750K a while ago.

    Downtown is still a wasteland of inactivity and a place that no one really wants to go. The place resembles parts of Detroit and is dying as most cities are.

    Over the long haul since the 1960’s, the city council has done everything it could to kill downtown and that’s why downtown VanGoober has been dead for quite a few years.

    I guess the only thing that has changed about the city council are the names, the knot-headed, destructive “attitudes” remain the same and the people in office are still total morons.

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  2. odd. burkman et al could waste 20 million they couldn’t afford for The Liar Leave-it’s new palace… and now they feel the need to rape the theater group with a 400% rent increase? given their moronic pay raise to the city manager, nothing should be terribly surprising with these fools and the taxpayer’s money .

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  3. As far as i can tell, this hasn’t been run by city council yet. Since they don’t do property management, others work out the details and then council votes on it,

    But, that is also why the effort is under way to get city council involved.

    We all can come up with numerous ways the budget could be trimmed that Boss Leave-it would never consider that would not rape the theater into eviction.

    The whole thing just sounds wrong.

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  4. I’m surprised that they can waste thousands on hearings, staff time and meetings for the general public to bring semi-pro baseball and yet they can’t afford to give some relief to the Slocum House? BioMass Plant and other wonderful ideas?

    Can we also add the Hilton, millions for the Fort Vancouver National Trust for roofs and other needs the city takes care of though is looking for a lot of grants now? Firstenburg, Marshall redev, the library X2 (Cascade Park and Downtown?) and on and on?

    ALL of us here could probably list a thousand or more projects since the 1990s that called for millions for the budget.

    So do dare tell me how the Slocum House cannot get a little help?

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  5. It’s the nature of the beast, where money and location talks! I would love to see the City Manager’s raise go to saving the Slocum House! If the City wants this side of the bridge to complete with the Pearl District they should find a way for the theater company to stay put. We are talking about Couv’s history but there are those that want to build a new and don’t care for the history.

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  6. This is horrible, and I will begin fighting it in the limited ways I can.

    But let’s get the numbers right for anyone that’s going to join in that fight. This is a proposed 300% increase. The rent would be approximately 400% of its original cost, meaning that it’s 300% higher than it was, thus a 300% increase.

    I’m nitpicking like this because you don’t want to go into the fight making incorrect quotes. Let’s be as correct as possible so the nitpickers on the other side can’t shoot us down for being inaccurate.

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  7. The Columbian has an article up now, containing an email reply on this that they received from city manager Eric Holmes.

    http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/dec/19/possible-rent-increase-threatens-slocum-house-thea/

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  8. I’m sorry, I don’t “get” how they figure that place “justifies” $5K rent per month. That’s just totally ridiculous. It’s not a McDonald’s.

    As for the “$25K a year” the place supposedly costs the city, maybe they need to quit paving the floors with gold.

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  9. “Downtown is still a wasteland of inactivity and a place that no one really wants to go. The place resembles parts of Detroit and is dying as most cities are.”

    Seriously? Have you been to a First Friday Artwalk? The Farmer’s Market? Any of the gazillion events at Esther Short all summer long? Gone out for dinner somewhere that wasn’t a chain restaurant? Shopped at the local grocery stores? Had afternoon tea at the tea shop? The list goes on and on….

    Support downtown businesses or watch them die. I mean, I’m sure it’s more fun to just blame the city rather than landlords who still want the same rates they could charge several years ago or the people who complain about how downtown sucks but haven’t been there in 10 years so they actually have no idea what’s going on.

    Have fun shopping at Walmart, eating at Olive Garden, staying home and watching tv for entertainment, and then complaining on the internet that everything that’s wrong with the city is the fault of the government. Heaven forbid anyone takes some personal responsibility for their part in the economy. And for heaven’s sake, if any of you actually care about Slocum House – beyond the opportunity to complain – then go there and see a play. Problem solved.

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  10. Ever been to Detroit, Sam? I didn’t think so.

    Btw, where is there a WalMart or an Olive Garden in downtown VanGoober? For that matter, where is there a Burgerville, McDonald’s, or Taco Bell in downtown VanGoober?

    In fact, where is there anything in downtown VanGoober that anyone wants to go to? Don’t mention the courthouse or city hall because no one wants to go to either of those places.

    I have a “connection” to a downtown business and I go to downtown quite often. Probably more often than you, Sam.

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  11. As per the columbian article that I read. The city is looking to recover the costs associated with their costs. Now I am not gong to debate the numbers until I can get a better sense or have some serious documentation.

    Maybe I do applaud Eric for trying to find ways to maximize and work towards getting the city out of business of operating or subsiding community projects like the slocum house. Especially with the financial pressures current and possibly future layoffs to be able to make more and more things self-sustainable or move them off the city’s financial books on to other providers or options.

    I do believe that I would like to see the city move towards not own the Slocum House anymore. But I would like to also see capable, license volunteers who choose to volunteer to do the appropriate repairs to be able to do them. And not waste City resources to do that stuff.

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  12. I want to know whom is ready to pay the outrageous price for that property? I’m sure the Slocum House will find another place to use? How about the old City Hall?

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  13. I should think that with the amount of vacant storefronts in downtown there would be someplace Slocum could go that wouldn’t break the bank.

    Let the city eat their own “historical property”.

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  14. I am in complete support of the Slocum House Theater Group. We need to keep the arts that we have. As for the comment about places to go downtown, someone is missing out on some very good restaurants. To name a few….Tommy O’s, Little Italy, Thai Orchid, Tiger Garden, Rosemary’s Cafe, Woody’s Tacos. All wonderful places to eat. And if you want dessert, be sure to pick up cupcakes at either Divine Bites or Treats! Downtown does have some things to offer. You just have to look for it.

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  15. Bar, Even though those might be great restaurants amongst many down there, I really have no interest in eating downtown. A lot of the restaurants do not cater to my interests or needs. In fact, a lot of western clark county doesn’t.

    I either have to go to Portland or eastern clark county to find the places that I’m interested in eating or doing business in. So until they have cheaper priced food (not speaking of fast food) or better options, I won’t be going down there on a regular basis.

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  16. Any thing new about this subject?

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  17. NO updates yet, Jeremy.

    I did receive a copy of expenses associated with the Slocum House and am looking them over.

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