It was a joy last week to report the sale of the Performing Arts Center.
For more than a decade, Clatsop Community College leaders have been seeking to find a suitable buyer for the converted Peace Lutheran Church building on 16th Street.
The college bought it for classes and performances as it expanded in the 1970s, but discontinued a drama program many years ago and has moved away from hosting significant musical and other public events to focus on the core mission of providing community and academic education.
Maintenance issues as the building’s interior deteriorated also meant it was no longer available for college classes, although it could still be used by community groups.
In recent years, a coalition called Partners for the PAC has helped partner organizations make good use of the facility for concerts, plays and guest speakers while seeking a long-term solution to ownership.
Many of the events were fundraisers for the PAC, paying for some repairs and enhancements. The Astoria Music Festival used the stage as an alternate venue for some of its smaller-scale concerts and operatic performances. The North Coast Symphonic Band has graced its stage frequently and for the past two years the folk community has hosted a Pete Seeger birthday concert there.
As college leaders continued to seek a buyer, many in the arts community worried that the facility would be lost as a performing arts center. These fears were ramped up with an outside investor’s approach to the college in 2016. When North Coast arts supporters learned the prospective buyers wanted to use the site for housing, they lobbied the college board to reject the offer. College leaders agreed, but urged the Partners to find a workable solution.
As discussions continued, up stepped Constance Waisanen, a local financial adviser and arts supporter. Her organization, Trinity LLC, has bought the building with the sole intent of eventually handing it over to the partners.
“This is the win-win scenario we were hoping for,” said Chris Breitmeyer, the college president. “The college can let go of a building it couldn’t utilize and the community gets to keep the beloved gathering space.”
While preserving the performing arts center is good news, there was a bonus cause for celebration as the small, socially distanced crowd assembled last week discovered.
Warm applause greeted the unveiling of the new name of the facility — the Charlene Larsen Center for the Performing Arts.
Larsen has been a fixture in the leadership of the Partners, a stalwart performer with more than one musical group, and a leader with the Astoria Regatta, Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival and Lions Club. When she was chosen for the George Award in 2011, the citizen-of-the-year honor was long overdue.
Her work for the PAC has included leading the Partners, but also considerable hands-on maintenance and refurbishing of the building — even the mucky stuff.
The one cloud on the horizon is the one affecting all arts organizations. The necessary health and safety requirements of the coronavirus mean that performing arts facilities may be among the last to reopen when health risks of public gatherings begin to diminish.
Still, the Partners for the PAC board and supporters combine the energy and enthusiasm of some of the most creative minds on the North Coast. We have confidence they will continue this united drive to keep the facility alive.