Cultural Center sale hits detour as alternative slate gains board seats
The Northwest Children’s Theater packed the hall with enthusiastic children and loyal parents, but in the end, four old men won the day.
About 200 people attended the annual meeting of the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center last month, many of them in support of the Children’s Theater goal of buying the 1911 historic landmark where the theater has operated the past 24 years.
That deal will not be happening anytime soon.
A previously announced March 22 special meeting of the Cultural Center membership to approve the sale is not happening. Instead, a much longer and less certain process will unfold.
“We are months, if not a year away from a decision,” NWNCC board member Ginger Burke announced.
The “we” she referred to now consists of four board members not favored by current directors who nevertheless swept to victory over three incumbents on the official slate.
Bill Welch, an incumbent who reported being the lone voice of dissent on board actions preparing for the sale, led all candidates with 54 votes. Don Genasci, Gordy Allen and Dan Anderson—all but Allen past members of the NWNCC board—were also successful.
Incumbents John Tess, Susanna Duke and Laura Marney finished out of the running.
While Welch was soft-spoken about his desire to serve, the other three on the “alternative” slate were direct in calls for change.
Anderson, in refusing to be limited to a two-minute statement, charged that the bulk of the meeting had been orchestrated to demonstrate support for the Children’s Theater, pushing the main purpose of the meeting—electing directors—to a limited period at the end.
“This is a members’ meeting,” Anderson said. “It’s not a directors’ meeting.”
He also faulted the board for enlisting no new members, other than six people selected to the board, during the past four years. By contrast, 36 people had joined in the 30 days leading up to the annual meeting through the efforts of other members.
Allen, a former legal counsel for the board, said the current board “is plainly biased in favor of the Children’s Theater” while showing little concern for the neighborhoods’ interests.
The Cultural Center is owned by a nonprofit organization whose members must live, own property or represent a business within six surrounding neighborhoods.
Allen said the underlying message from most speakers was, “If you love the Children’s Theater, you need to give them the building,” to which he asked, “Why?”
Genasci advocated a continuing relationship between the two organizations allowing the theater to remain in place.
Genasci also responded to the primary theme of Children’s Theater proponents: Only a sale would save the building from demolition.
“Wherever the report came from that we want to get rid of the building, it’s a total lie,” he said. “Demolition is a red herring as far as we’re concerned.”
Three historic preservation advocates, including Restore Oregon Executive Director Peggy Moretti, said razing the National Register landmark would be next to impossible. To do so would require a vote of the Portland City Council, which has only supported removal of a landmark structure once, and that for a social benefit—in that case, a new Blanchet House “to feed, clothe and offer shelter and aid to those in need.”