Allan Classen
Editor & Publisher

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Children’s Theater leaving Cultural Center, looking for new home

 

One of the longest real estate negotiations in recent memory ended abruptly last month when the Northwest Children’s Theater abandoned efforts to buy its home of the last 25 years, the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center.

Just two months before a special Cultural Center meeting at which members were to approve or reject the sale, the Children’s Theater released a statement saying it is seeking a different location.

“NWCT is ceasing all efforts to negotiate a purchase of the building and is halting all work on a rehabilitation plan,” the release stated. “The board will immediately turn its attention to finding and securing a new home for the Children’s Theater.”

The rehabilitation plan was at the heart of the matter. Tentative sale terms involved a token cash payment but required that a thorough seismic upgrade be accomplished within nine years. The latest estimate for that upgrade and other code compliance work was $10.3 million, and related work may have driven the total bill to about $16 million.

Failure to complete the upgrade on time would have caused the title to revert to the Cultural Center, a nonprofit board whose members must live in six neighborhoods surrounding the center at 1819 NW Everett St.

Cultural Center President Dan Volkmer said the Children’s Theater’s pullout “was pretty shocking to me, though not completely unexpected. It’s a major loss for the neighborhood.”

NWCT President Carolyn Sheldon

NWCT President Carolyn Sheldon

Children’s Theater President Carolyn Sheldon posted her perspective on the organization’s website:

“Over the past year, competing interests have complicated negotiations to the point where we have decided we must walk away from this project,” Sheldon wrote. “It has become clear there is not a deal that can satisfy all of the stakeholders while also providing the Children’s Theater with the flexibility and support we would need to run a successful capital campaign.”

Nick Fenster, marketing and development director for the Children’s Theater, told the NW Examiner that a contentious vote on the sale, even one approving the sale, would have been damaging to the organization’s reputation and its ability to attract grants and donations.

Volkmer said the collapse of negotiations “was a combination of everything,” involving an array of issues necessitating 12 rewrites of the term sheet.

Still, he and most on the Cultural Center board thought things were headed for resolution.

“I did not know this was coming,” wrote Cultural Center board member Gordy Allen in a letter to the Examiner. “Like the rest of the board, I would’ve been delighted to convey the building to the Children’s Theater provided that it raised the money and did the work as promised.

“I was adamant that the agreement have ironclad requirements that the money be raised and the work be done and that there be no back doors in the agreement whereby a friendly board could later waive those requirements and simply give the building to the Children’s Theater.

“I assume the Children’s Theater looked at its fundraising capabilities and concluded that it could not raise the very large sums required to make the building seismically safe.”

The Children’s Theater’s lease expires in 2020. Fenster said that should give the organization sufficient time to find an alternative location.

The Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center was built in 1909 by the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Seating capacity in the 11,000-square-foot auditorium has been reduced since this circa 1970s photo was taken. Photo nnccpdx.com/preservation

The Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center was built in 1909 by the First Church of Christ, Scientist. Seating capacity in the 11,000-square-foot auditorium has been reduced since this circa 1970s photo was taken.
Photo nnccpdx.com/preservation

The Cultural Center annual meeting is Thursday, April 26, at 1819 NW Everett St. Individuals living in the Arlington Heights, Goose Hollow, Hillside, Linnton, Northwest District or Northwest Industrial neighborhoods are eligible to become members. New members must join by March 3 to vote at the annual meeting in April. (To register, visit: nnccpdx.com/membership/).

At least three vacant board seats could be filled at that meeting.