Performing arts partners look to buy college venue

Partners for the PAC, a coalition using Clatsop Community College's Performing Arts Center, is exploring a potential purchase of the building.

Partners for the PAC, a coalition that uses Clatsop Community College’s Performing Arts Center, is exploring how to potentially purchase the building.

The popular practice and performance venue on 16th Street is no longer used by the college for academics and is in need of major upgrades. The college board rejected an offer by a developer in 2016 to buy the arts center as part of a larger housing project.

The coalition formed in 2012 to support daily operations after a rumor the college was selling the building. Since then, the group has raised money to pay for the center’s operation.

The college, which has declined to share an appraisal of the property, is drawing up a nondisclosure agreement to share the price and other information with Partners for the PAC. A county appraisal report showed a real market value on the property of more than $1.7 million.

Charlene Larsen, president of Partners for the PAC, said the group will spend 12 to 18 months evaluating a purchase.

“The due diligence part is to look at other entities who have done similar projects, and making sure we are going in with our eyes wide open,” Larsen said.

One successful example can be found just east of Clatsop County.

In 2015, the Clatskanie Foundation, formed to funnel tax-exempt donations into projects benefiting the community, opened the Clatskanie Cultural Center in the renovated International Order of Odd Fellows Hall in the middle of town.

The foundation bought the dilapidated property in 2008 using a $500,000 donation from the late C. Keith Birkenfeld, an educator and descendant of regional pioneers, and eventually began a four-year capital campaign that raised more than $3 million for renovation.

“What we learned is we’re able to get that much in grant funding, but we needed that buy-in from the local community,” said Deborah Hazen, the former publisher of The Clatskanie Chief newspaper, who serves as vice president of the foundation and facilities coordinator for the cultural center.

The Clatskanie Foundation received much of the capital from larger foundations while gathering numerous donations from local businesses and families. It offered multiyear pledges and memorial plaques in the Birkenfeld Theatre, named after the first donor to the project. Clatskanie, in need of new offices, donated nearby property for a parking lot and $175,000 in property tax repayments from Georgia-Pacific Wauna Mill in exchange for a 30-year lease in the building.

The cultural center has become a popular performance space and event venue, Hazen said, hosting weddings and performing arts events for the Clatskanie Arts Commission, which helped with fundraising and operates the building.

“We operate the building on a nonprofit basis, but we have to make enough money to cover the costs,” she said, adding the cultural center breaks even.

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