Nearing construction, VAA works to keep momentum on arts center project

Bruce and Madeline Morser work on a mural on the side of the McFeeds building. - Natalie Martin/Staff Photo
Bruce and Madeline Morser work on a mural on the side of the McFeeds building.
— image credit: Natalie Martin/Staff Photo


On a warm July afternoon, Bruce Morser stood on Vashon Highway drawing. While Morser, a professional artist, has done work for such clients as Starbucks, Rolex and National Geographic, that day he and his daughter were drawing with Sharpie markers on the side of an old building.

In the last few weeks, the father-daughter duo has traced a sprawling mural that includes an orchestra, actors performing Shakespeare and dancers in “The Nutcracker” on the side of the old McFeed’s building. The mural, which that day frequently drew honks and shouts from the busy intersection at Center, is part of an effort by Vashon Allied Arts (VAA) to maintain momentum for its Vashon Center for the Arts project. A puzzle showing the new center by Will Forrester has been forming at the top of the mural as well, and in May, Steffon Moody painted two large birds on the other side of the building.

“That drew a lot of attention,” said Molly Reed, the executive director of VAA. “It’s for fun, and it’s to show progress as things have sort of evolved on the building.”

VAA announced its ambitious plans to build a multi-million dollar performing arts center in 2011, and since then the project has grabbed attention and headlines as the nonprofit has vetted its controversial plans with the community, moved through the construction permitting process and worked to raise funds for the $16.9 million project. However, both Reed and Morser, who is also a VAA board member and sits on the building committee, say things have quieted down lately as the organization has cleared its major hurdles and comes close to completing its fundraising. They hope that the new art on the McFeeds building will remind passers-by that plans are still underway to tear down the building and construct in its place a 20,000-square-foot structure complete with an orchestra pit, art gallery, classroom space and expansive lobby.

With the required funds nearly in place, VAA’s board recently voted to break ground on the project in October.

“Because we’ve worked so hard for so long, to be able to say that is really exciting for us, to say the least,” Reed said.

VAA also recently announced a $250,000 matching donation that it hopes will encourage more people to donate and help round out the $500,000 it still needs to raise from the community.

Since announcing a $2.5 million public fundraising campaign last October, VAA has brought in about $2 million. Reed said donations and pledges have ranged from from $25 to five-figure gifts, and they are seeing many people contribute $5,000 donations, the amount required to be named on the donor wall inside the new building.

“Some people are brand new to us, and some are people who have decided to increase their gifts,” she said.

VAA has also received a donation of two pieces of property the organization can sell to bring in additional funds, though Reed said she is unsure how much the plots are worth, as VAA has not yet had them appraised.

Though she declined to say who contributed the $250,000 matching donation, Reed said she felt confident it will help bring in the final dollars of the public campaign. The organization also still plans to raise $1.5 million from other sources, such as grants and foundations.

“We’ve got what we need to break ground, contingent on finishing off this matching campaign,” she said.

With fundraising on track, Reed said the project itself is on schedule as well, as VAA and its engineers work to obtain construction permits in time to break ground in October. VAA’s contractor, Seattle-based Sellen Construction, plans to bid out the project and hire subcontractors is summer.

Breaking ground in mid-October would allow VAA to spend its $2 million in state funding by the June 2015 deadline and to open the building by December of 2015, in time for the chorale to hold its holiday concert there.

Seeing the chorale perform its December concert in the new building is especially important to VAA, Reed said, as it was former chorale member Kay White who set the project in motion by donating more than $10 million in cash and trusts. Next December, White will be 95, and Reed says she hopes White can watch the concert from the seats of the new theater.

Ty Peterson, a product line manager at the county’s Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER), said the department is waiting to hear from VAA representatives on a couple minor issues, but the organization should be able to obtain its building permit in time to break ground in October. He called the issues, having to do with structural engineering and civil engineering, “normal stuff in most reviews.”

“It’s not permit-issue ready, but most of the review has been done except those areas,” Peterson said.

As for the mural, Morser said he and his daughter have been adding to it a few times a week — a child painting a picture here, a magician there. He said he opted to spread out the project to keep people looking at the old building as they pass by.

“I like the idea of the anticipation,” he said. “All of this stuff is going to happen right here at this intersection.”

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