The Willoughby Arts Complex nears the design phase

The CBJ Comprehensive Plan designates the Willoughby District as a cultural center in Juneau. (Image courtesy of James Bibb/North Wind Architects)

The CBJ Comprehensive Plan designates the Willoughby District as a cultural center in Juneau. (Image courtesy of James Bibb/North Wind Architects)

Planners hope to begin architectural design of the proposed Willoughby Arts Complex this summer. The multiuse performance space would include, or take the place of, the existing Juneau Arts and Culture Center. In 2012, Juneau voters approved spending $1 million from sales tax revenue to support the project. Earlier this week, interested groups heard the latest on the project.


If you’re unfamiliar with the project, here’s a summary. Both Perseverance Theatre and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council have needed new spaces for years. About a year ago, says Perseverance Theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Art Roach, the organizations came to a realization:

“Instead of building two buildings, let’s build one. Makes sense. And let’s share in the design of it, and the operating of it, and the fundraising for it, and selling it to the community–all of those tasks are going to have to get done to make this real. Let’s do it together because if we work together we can do it more efficiently, and we can get more for the money.”

They formed a nonprofit entity called “The pARTnership” that will own and operate the building. The city, which owns the land, gave the group until 2019 to break ground. That’s where consultant Tony Forman of the international firm Theatre Projects Consultants comes in.

“We are not architects. We are a resource for architects to help them design a very unique building type, which is a performing arts space that has very specific and unique requirements to be successful,” says Forman.

Tony Foreman, a consultant with the international firm Theatre Projects Consultants, talks about plans for the center. (KTOO Photo)

Tony Foreman, a consultant with the international firm Theatre Projects Consultants, talks about plans for the center. (KTOO Photo)

That includes planning the general environment, the spaces that allow for the best interaction between actor and audience, the specialized equipment like lighting and rigging, and the question of the night: the size and number of rooms and theaters. In addition to the JACC space, a 275-seat, multiuse or community theater, a 170-seat theater for Perseverance, a smaller 30- to 45-seat performance space, a rehearsal room, a classroom, offices, a café, and more. It’s going to be bigger than the JACC is now. And speaking of the old building, will it stay or will it go? Forman says it’s tricky.

“Renovation is 95- to 115-percent of new construction. You can save a little money, and it can also be more expensive. You have things like asbestos abatement and lead paint and underground tanks that you may not even know are there when you start the project.”

While the renovation versus new construction question is not unique, Forman says that two non-profits joining forces is.

“In the past, communities have done that on a civic level where the city, town, or municipality has undertaken the project and owns and runs a building. That’s a model that has been successful for many years but it’s starting to change. I think the way Juneau is approaching this with these two organizations taking the lead is the wave of the future and very exciting.”

Juneau Arts and Humanities Council Executive Director Nancy DeCherny says there is still a lot of work to do, including fundraising.

“People are worried that we will build something that we cannot afford—we will not do that. We realize that this is a huge philanthropic stretch for this community. We have a target in mind and we are going to build what we can afford.”

DeCherny hesitates to give an estimate, but knows it will be difficult. Still, she’s enthusiastic.

“It’s been a dream in this community since I moved here in 1975 and it’s exciting to be part of seeing it though. And I think the whole community should be excited about this. We’ve got the SLAM Building being completed, we have the Walter Sobeloff Center, we’ve got this. Juneau’s going to be a hot place pretty soon.”

To raise the funds, The pARTnership has begun formation of a capital campaign committee that will be coordinated by Charlotte Fox of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

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