Commercial Street Theatre Project seeks $300K through crowdfunding

After getting Bellingham City Council approval on a lease for a vacant retail space in a downtown parking structure, the Commercial Street Theatre Project is now leaving its future in the hands of local residents.

Artists and organizers behind the effort, which would turn the Parkade on Commercial Street into a 200-seat performing arts center, must raise an estimated $638,000 by Feb. 1, 2014, in order to begin renovating the property. At least half of that amount must be raised by Aug. 1, 2013, according to the arrangement approved by City Council.

Organizers of the theater have set up a crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo to solicit donations. They have set a fundraising goal of $300,000, which must be met by July 3.

But if the deadline hits and the campaign hasn’t met its goal, it is likely nothing will be built, said Pam Kuntz, a member of the theater’s project committee. The all-or-nothing gamble is purposeful, she added, and will gauge public interest in the project.

“We are confident, but we recognize that it is a challenge,” Kuntz said. “We either want to the community to step up and do this with us, or not.”

Kuntz is also the artistic director for Kuntz and Company, a nonprofit dance and theater organization based in Bellingham. The Commercial Street Theater is a special project of the nonprofit group.

The theater’s primary focus would be dance, music and theater productions, but the space could also host community organizations, meetings, private parties, classes and other educational programs, Kuntz said.

A multi-use nature to the facility was a key factor in City Council members approving, by a 5-2 vote, less than market-rate rental terms for the theater during a May 20 meeting.

If the group can raise the money for the project, it will pay a monthly rent of $500, a little less than 20 percent of the market-rate monthly rent of $2,565, according to city documents.

If financing comes through, renovation on the site must start on or before March 1, 2014, and it must be complete on or before Sept. 1, 2014.

On their Indiegogo page, the theater’s fundraisers have identified other potential donors and grant programs to approach for help should the campaign not meet its goal, but Kuntz said it is important to project leaders to have the theater funded through community effort.

In that spirit, Kuntz said she hopes the $300,000 goal will be met with a large number of small donations—perhaps some as low at $5—as opposed to greater gifts from just a few benefactors. With the crowdfunding setup, donations pledged through Indiegogo will only be collected if the $300,000 goal is met, she added.

While the theater would provide new space for local dance and performance groups, Kuntz said she believes the space could have a positive effect on downtown businesses.

She pointed to a recent survey completed by Allied Arts of Whatcom County and Americans for the Arts, which found that local nonprofit art groups supported 520 jobs in 2010 and brought more than $14 million in economic activity to the region, including spending in restaurants, retail stores and hotels.

“We see the theater as a business that will bring traffic downtown,” Kuntz said.

Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com

Rendering by Zervas Architects | Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

A rendering of the proposed Commercial Street Theatre. (Click to open)
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