Vancouver Closes Slocum House Theater, While Calling for Creation of a Performing Arts Center (Updated)

by lewwaters

It was just this past March 16, 2012 that Vancouver, Washington Mayor, Tim Leavitt, stood before an audience in the recently restored Kiggin’s Theater and said, “Only because owner Bill Leigh pursued his dream to restore this landmark, are we today able to enjoy Mayor Kiggins vision for the performing arts” in his 2012 State of the City speech.

Also in that speech, the Mayor stated, “I pledged we would work toward redevelopment of the empty Block 10, here near the heart of downtown. In this economy, that has been difficult. But we know that reuse of this property could enhance downtown. So, I’ll soon be working with a group of stakeholders to re-energize the block. And, we will continue to explore new ideas, like a performing arts center.”

Towards the end of the speech, speaking of future possibilities for the city he listed “Establishment of an arts and entertainment district downtown, building even greater vibrancy in our historic heart.”

There is little doubt that “performing arts” is a vital core of Vancouver, especially in revitalizing the downtown district. And knowing how vital the “performing arts” are to downtown, how contradictory it is to see the city pressuring the existing and long standing “performing arts” Slocum House Theater Company out of the home they have had for decades, painstakingly moved to and restored at its decades long location by an all volunteer group of citizens in the southwest corner of Esther Short Park specifically to host the “performing arts.”

The public furor over the city’s plan to raise the Theaters rent, use fees by nearly 400% died down as the city “granted” the theater a 90 day extension on their lease early in January 2012.

Shortly after, the Theater Company issued a press release announcing the March 11, 2012 closing.

Even though the city claims ownership of the property, I am told that prior to 2002, “the only thing the city did was to paint the outside, fix a few plumbing problems and for some reason pay the water bill.”

Prior to that, community volunteers and supporters of the Theater Company performed the needed maintenance and donated all of the materials and furnishings seen. The front door, the stained glass on the front door, all chandeliers, all light fixtures, window covering, all of the shades, all of the shelving, the stage, the carpet, the back doors on the stage, the fencing around the back porch, everything was donated to and is owned by the Theater Company, save the HVAC and ADA compliant toilet facility.

Even the recent sprucing up of the gardens around the building was accomplished by volunteers from the New Hope Foursquare Church.

The city claims an expense of $30,000 a year to keep up the historic building, but the Budget the city supplied upon request shows a 7 year average of just over $23,000 a year.

A Columbian editorial last December addressed some of the financial woes, but what wasn’t shown to the community was the reason the Theater Company was in their own financial woes. It has recently been explained to me that much of it is the result of a now past treasurer who mishandled the Theater Companies finances, not paying bills or taxes on time that resulted in high late fees the company had to pay. There also was a significant amount of unaccounted for missing funds that the Theater Company is now seeking recovery of through legal actions.

Needless to say, the Theater Company lost their 501(c)(3) status and was in the process of getting their finances caught up and corrected in order to regain it when the city hit them abruptly with the close to 400% rent, use fee increase as their lease was expiring late last year.

Learning of the loss of their 501(c)(3) status, their advisors recommended they “stop negotiations with the city,” claiming that if the city found out “they would take it to the press and make the company look horrible.” They were advised to say they “could not continue talks because their finances would not even keep up with the User Fee they were already paying and because at the end of 2010 it looked like they had made tons of money but that in 2011 they lost tons more.”

That was of course caused by the mishandling of the groups funds by the past treasurer, not paying bills in 2010 and the theater group trying to catch up in 2011.

Following what they thought was proper advice was met by several people from the theatres past contacting the Board and voicing disagreement. Only later did the Board realize they could “be under the umbrella of another 501(c)(3)” until they regained their own.

Jaynie Roberts of the Magenta Theater immediately agreed to help with that umbrella when approached by the Slocum Board, setting an attorney’s appointment the very next day. That is how closely knit our Theater Community in Vancouver is.

The earlier discussions ongoing with Jan Bader and Tim Haldemen were deemed “tense,” so the Theater Board requested a meeting directly with City manager Eric Holmes to “lay everything out on the table.”

At the meeting with Mr. Holmes and Tim Haldeman in early March, explaining everything that had happened, the Theater Group was told that the city had “decided to take in proposals for the house at the end of March and see what came in.”

Asking if it were “possible to stop that idea and let the Theater stay until the end of the year and then they could start negotiations for the new lease,” was reportedly met with the reply from Mr. Holmes words to the effect of, “Yes, but we aren’t going to” since the city had already issued a press release saying they were ready to take the groups’ offer when they pulled out of the talks.

(UPDATE) Mr. Holmes’ office sent a reply to a Friday email request for information on this Monday morning, April 16, 2012 and can be read HERE

The Theater Company has now essentially lost everything, including the ‘kitchen sink.’ The ornate doors, the stage, everything is lost as they look for a new home after over 46 years of performing in the building they took great pains to move and restore for the sole purpose of holding live community plays. They must now start all over, looking for a new place to hold plays and for donations to rebuild.

In the mean time, we hear Mayor Leavitt giving a speech calling for his desire to create a “downtown performing arts center” that will undoubtedly require taxpayer subsidies to open and then exist.

Andrea Damewood of the Columbian noted during her live tweeting of the State of the City speech, “[Mayor] Leavitt wants to explore new ideas for downtown, including performing arts center. Sure Slocum House folks will be pleased to hear that.”

Surely they must be able to see that they already HAD a performing arts center downtown that with just a little creative work, cooperation and understanding, they could have kept going and built on.

26 Comments to “Vancouver Closes Slocum House Theater, While Calling for Creation of a Performing Arts Center (Updated)”

  1. No one knows this scam better than me. I owned and operated the Columbia Arts Center for a decade. I know all the history, problems, and pandering. The should be NO PUBLIC MONEY provided for anything that serves a teeny, tiny, whining, self-righteous, self-centered, exclusive group of people.

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  2. The point is, Martin, why screw over the Slocum House Theater like they did with their 400% rent user fee increase, then turn around and call for creating a “performing arts center” that will likely call for more tax dollars than if they had worked with Slocum House?

    As I said before, volunteers could have performed much of the needed work and maintenance, but city worker unions balked at that idea.

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  3. Public employee unions – another excellent reason to NOT SUPPORT a publically-funded performing arts center.

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  4. I don’t believe the city would have to pour support in to them, Martin, just roll back a 400% rent user fee increase

    I don’t know why the city got involved in the first place. It was volunteers that raised the money and moved the house.

    There were proposals to raise admission slightly and allow the theater group to put the building out for private events, for a fee.

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  5. There’s a dead rat buried somewhere…

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  6. I’m not focusing my comments on Slocum House, Lew. I’m talking about the BIG “performing arts center” that’s been pitched for the past few years.

    Think baseball scam.

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  7. I agree on that, Martin. But, it still comes across very contradictory.

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  8. Martin, I was CAC as well. In fact, I was one of the last people in there to clear it all out, again after the city decided to sell the building. “teeny, tiny, whining, self-righteous, self-centered, exclusive group of people.” That is very offensive. Until 2002, when the city decided to step in, we took care of EVERYTHING. So, how did it go from us taking care of everything, not at $30,000 a year, to the city putting in $30,000 a year from there on? What did the theatre know that the city does not? Are we better at spending our money? It seems we are or were until we trusted the wrong person. Maybe there are just too many “wrong” people in the city?

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  9. Mayor McFly don’t know if he’s punched or bored.

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  10. I’m sorry about that, Rebecca. My shot pattern was way too wide – I ended up hitting you and Slocum House when my intended target was people who want to use public money to fund vanity projects: AKA baseball scam. MIa culpa.

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  11. Gee. Another case of: “Thanks for fixing up the building for us, now get the hell out of it!”. It’s one of the drawbacks in volunteering for the government. Too many petty little government bureaucrat pukes.

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  12. The very best in local Performance Art is held weekly in Vancouver City Hall, and alternately at C-Tran and RTC meetings….

    Let’s get with the program Lew. You know full well that the City needs that $30,000 (and a lot more) for that wonderful 8 1/2 acres of “waterfront park” that everyone in town has been demanding. Never mind that you have to count every single square inch of grass between all of the buildings that will eventually be there to come up with 8 1/2 acres, or that there isn’t going to be anywhere near enough parking in there to accomodate enough people to fill 8 1/2 acres, but Mayor Progressive and all of his friends are going ahead with it anyway.

    And is there any word about when Jack Burkman Square will be developed?? (For the uninitiated, Jack Burkman Square is that vacant lot next to the new downtown library where there was supposed to be a parking garage, 200 free parking spaces, and a whole development that Jack Burkman personally helped get cancelled…)

    “The should be NO PUBLIC MONEY provided for anything that serves a teeny, tiny, whining, self-righteous, self-centered, exclusive group of people.”

    Martin, does that include C-Tran riders??

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  13. Pretty much, Bob.

    When I sound like I’m supporting mass/public transit, that’s my Constitutional lawyer speaking. As an engineer and Capitalist, “kill ’em all and let god sort it out” would be my position. So, like everyone else, I struggle with what society is obligated to provide (Constitutionally), what’s best for society to provide, and where I’m willing to compromise (because other people have opinions too).

    I could just let it ride – I got mine.

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  14. Okay Martin, you’ve confused me again.

    Where is there any “constitutional obligation” to supply anybody with transportation or anything else?

    If that is true, wouldn’t that preclude your “let it ride – I got mine?”

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  15. Lew, like Right to Privacy, Freedom of Movement is an implied guarantee. It was used for the Disability Act, and is always in the back of the minds of transportationists though it hasn’t gone Supreme Court all the way yet. Never-the-less, it bars needing “papers” to move, or denying benefits based on location, gives access to public beaches, and pretty much built the freeway system.

    Personally, I think tolling all crossings of the Columbia River may the be Supreme Court trigger because that will bar poor people from going into Oregon. Of course, there are limits and practical considerations, and it’s unclear what people are owed. However, the argument works for private drivers too – you also have a “Freedom of Movement” right, so overzealous urban planners better keep their gruby hands off your roadways.

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  16. That sounds like a stretch to a layman. Other than after the Civil War, when did government supply “40 acres and a mule” to any public people?

    Even horses, stage coach and rail roads were paid for by people to a private enterprise.

    Again, as a layman looking at it, it would appear that if one is taxed heavily to subsidize another, that would intrude on one’s privacy as well hamper their freedom of movement.

    Personally, and I’ve been driving since I was 14, owned my first car at 15, no one has ever given me anything to help me move around, except personal loans from friends I had to pay back.

    I can see a freeway system, streets and bridges, that we pay for through collective taxes, tolls and such, but not buses and light rail subsidized as much as we must on top of paying for streets, bridges and freeways.

    This is where the legal system, or legislative system, loses many of us. Way too many things someone feels was “implied” that seems to fall in place due to someone’s (a judge) personal thoughts and feelings, not the law or constitution.

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  17. Lew, I’m always surprised that both the Left & the Right think they are the only ones in this country. It’s a democracy, meaning majority wins. You either compromise with the other side or they vote to CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION and take your stuff. And visa versa, the Left better realize that this nation is founded on and fueled by Capitalism.

    You know I’m a 100% believer in liberty but I know I’ve got to reassure the masses that their liberty is not lessened by my success. They’ve got to get something in the deal too or they’ll just vote to take my stuff. You can’t say “I’ve got mine” or the response will be “not for long.”

    Let the Constitution work for both groups and both groups will trust it.

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  18. No, the majority does not always win in a Republic.

    I can remember Teddy Kennedy wailing on about minority rights when Dems were the minority, but then when they became the majority, he too adopted that majority rule stance.

    I’m all for compromise when it must be, but it seems for quite a few years now, compromise means abandon our values and go along with whatever Democrats want.

    I know the center is no where near the center when I was younger. It now seems wholly on the left.

    But still, that does not negate some things said to be “implied” in the constitution.

    If you haven’t noticed, somethings said to be “implied” are stripping us of our basic individual rights.

    I can’t see the founders wanting that.

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  19. As for “stage coaches and railways”… Lew, a lot of Native Americans lost their land, and had their families massacred by the cavalry so those private enterprises could operate – freedom of movement was enforced by Government via the Constitution.

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  20. As for “the founders”… Lew, they were just a bunch of argumentative men who were in the right place at the right time and history overwhelmed them. Thank goodness! It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty but it got us started. You yourself have made the argument that 250 years ago ain’t today, so the Constitution needs to keep up.

    As for not wanting to compromise?! What? Don’t you think you and I could come to some agreement on just about anything?

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  21. Some of those Indian tribes were very warlike, especially against other Indian Tribes.

    But still, government did not provide people with the transportation, did they? Last I heard, Wells Fargo was a private entity, not a faction fo government.

    As for you and I compromising, we aren’t in the legislature or congress, are we?

    I don’t recall ever saying the constitution had to “keep up” with what someone else says is the times.

    If we adopt that attitude, why bother having it or a Supreme Court to rule on it? Just do whatever feels good.

    Or, as Justice Ginsburg did, decide constitutional matters based upon foreign laws, not our constitution.

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  22. The Injuns were “Nomads” – they didn’t own real estate lots and didn’t have deeds. They just happened to be living on the land that we wanted and we pushed them off of it, just as other tribes did to each other. The land belonged to whoever could hold onto it and we had the power to take it. Tough cookies.

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  23. Funny that this conversation started with the take over of the slocum house and turns into taking over the land used by “injuns” It reminds me of the story about Esther Short and her determination to keep her land. Her husband, Amos, even killed a man to keep it. What is really funny is, we are talking about the same land. Well, there are certain things we just can’t do anymore.

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  24. Unfortunately, Rebecca, that is how online discussions often go, they drift.

    But I agree, it is ironic how over the same land Esther Short’s husband fought for so long ago.

    I wish the original deed she gave the city for the property hadn’t burned up in the county courthouse fire back in 1890. I’d love to see what her original intent was and not just legal opinions stated today.

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  25. Well Lew… It is possible to let discussions drive up & down the local creeks, rivers, lakes and valleys. Now how many of those do we have? And how far can a discussion go fro the original post to the other side and then afar? 🙂

    God, I love the 1st amendment……

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  26. Having performed at both the Columbia Art Center and Slocum House for many years I find it really sad that the support for performing arts in Vancouver is So lacking. Years ago I was involved in a production of Once Upon A Mattress at The Columbia Arts Center, staged primarily by a group of kids no older than 21. Looking back I can’t believe what we as kids were able to stage such an incredible production. Till this day after many years working theater the pride I feel for that show has stuck with me. I find it sad that those opportunities for Vancouver’s youth are no longer available to them.

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