By Ryan Wynne
Bellingham City Council voted unanimously at its May 10 meeting to give $75,000 in existing lodging tax funds to the Pickford Film Center for its new Bay Street facility, a project that has felt the squeeze of the recession and been delayed due to a lack of funding.
The contribution to the nonprofit from the city’s lodging fund went unquestioned at the meeting. In fact, the only comments from council were supportive of the project, which is expected to bring media attention and tourism to downtown Bellingham. And, according to Mayor Dan Pike, should create 100 construction jobs immediately.
Councilman Terry Bornemann said he hopes the city’s contribution encourages potential donors to give to the project.
James Willson, vice president of Pickford’s board of directors, said the Pickford is roughly $100,000 to $200,00 away from meeting its $3.25 million goal. Not only is he delighted with the city’s monetary contribution, Willson said he is equally delighted with the mayor’s and councilmembers’ positive verbal support for the Pickford.
Bellingham’s Tourism Tax Advisory Committee also expressed its support for the project when it voted April 6 to recommend the city use tourism fund dollars to support the new theater. In an April 12 letter from the committee’s representative Nicole Oliver to the council, Oliver said committee members reviewed five proposals before deciding to back the Pickford project.
“LTAC members noted that although this allocation did not provide an immediate ‘head-in-beds’ scenario, the opening to the Pickford will provide a great deal of additional people to downtown throughout the week, supporting the entire Arts District as well as downtown businesses,” Oliver said in the letter.
One of the factors considered by the committee was another grant the Pickford was close to accessing. The city’s contribution will allow the Pickford to access $175,000 in previously awarded grant funding from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Willson said the Pickford had to raise $2 for every dollar of grant funding before they could get the money. He said they have raised slightly more than $3 million, but some of that money came in the form of loans.
At the meeting, Councilman Michael Lilliquist said this is the type of project that has widespread effects. His comment echoed those from members of the public who spoke before the vote.
Bellingham resident Laurel Cook said the project is not just about the Pickford. She said the project is also about the affect a film center like the Pickford Dream Space has on downtown businesses such as the Temple Bar, the Black Drop Coffeehouse, Henderson Books and the American Museum of Radio & Electricity, and that giving energy to the Pickford, is giving energy to all of downtown.
Cook said those businesses, and local businesses like them, keep Bellingham from filling with chain stores and becoming a “catalog downtown,” a prospect she seemed less than excited about.
“You may as well be in your mailbox,” Cook said.
The Pickford Dream Space project has gained significant momentum in the past couple of weeks. In addition to the city’s contribution and the $175,000 in now usable grant money, $250,000 has been appropriated for the project in the state’s capital budget.
According the the Pickford’s website, the Dream Space is about 65 percent complete and is slated to open at the end of 2010. The space will include two screens, 250-seat capacity, which is triple the current number of seats, and a 1,300-square-foot lobby, café and concessions area.
Willson said construction will begin within the next two weeks.
For information on the Pickford Film Center or to donate, visit here.