LETTER: ‘In support of the Annex’


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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

In support of the Annex:

I read the reporting of the April 1, 2019, City Council meeting on The B-Town Blog. I saw many things had been said about the Annex. I want to come to its defense.

By way of reference, I am the volunteer Artistic Director at Burien Actors Theater (BAT). However, I am writing as a private citizen and not as a representative of BAT. I am writing based upon my personal experience at the Annex.

BAT has produced 39 consecutive seasons of live theater out of its space in the Annex. In 1980 when Chelsea Park Elementary School was surplussed by the Highline School District, the building, which is now called the Annex, was given to King County Parks. BAT, then called Burien Little Theatre, moved into the South Building of the Annex in 1980 and has been there ever since. Over the years, BAT converted the space into a working theater space.

When Burien became a City, ownership of the Annex passed to the City of Burien. The City began charging BAT rent, which BAT continues to pay for the use of the space.

I have been a resident of Burien since the 1960s, except for times I was away for my education. I have been actively involved with BAT since 2008. As unpaid staff, I am at the Annex on a nearly daily basis, typically in the evenings and weekends.

While I could write about the many uses the Annex has had over the last 39 years, that is better left to the kind folks at the Highline Historical Society. I want to talk about what is going on at the Annex now.

First, who uses the Annex? There are a number of nonprofits in the buildings. These include BAT, Para los Niños de Highline, Transform Burien, Burien Cooperative Preschool, Meals on Wheels, and Hi-Liners Musical Theatre. I understand all of these nonprofits pay rent to the City of Burien for the use of space in the Annex. Without the Annex, where would these nonprofits go? Would the City pay to provide these services now offered without cost to the City from the Annex?

I cannot speak directly to what economic impact the other nonprofits in the Annex have on the City, but in 2017 the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington did a study on BAT’s economic impact on the City of Burien. The top line of the study was that BAT brings $141,000.00 into the City of Burien over and above ticket sales. That was looking at just the four main-stage shows BAT produces. The study did not include the smaller events BAT produces.

The Foster School of Business study showed that BAT is a regional theater. Much of the audience comes from as far away as Vancouver, Canada (routinely two couples) with most of the audience coming from West Seattle, Normandy Park, Des Moines, SeaTac, Covington, as well as significant numbers from the East Side, Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland. Without the Annex, these arts tourists would not come to Burien and spend their money at restaurants and shops.

I suspect the other nonprofits in the Annex also have a sizable impact on the City’s economy; I am just not privy to studies on them. Beyond a purely economic impact, the nonprofits in the Annex make Burien a better place to live, theater thrives, children are educated, cultures are supported, and those in need are given a hand up. I do not believe Burien’s current budget would support the City paying directly for these services.

At the council meeting, it appears some issues about the Annex were raised. From my personal experience, I can say, BAT has rarely had problems at the Annex. I have seen less than a handful of needles, far fewer fights, and generally BAT has been issue-free with those around the Annex. My experience should not be seen as dismissing or lessening the concerns others raise.

Caveat: my daily visits to the Annex occur in the early evening and on weekends. BAT does not have children on-site. Rehearsals typically go from early evening to 10 p.m., and when set-building is going on, we sometimes leave after midnight. So, I am not usually at the Annex in the morning or during weekdays. I cannot speak to what happens during those times.

In the 13 years I have been active with BAT, we have had only three cars broken into. Considering the number of vehicles that are at a performance, daily rehearsals, and other build projects that number appears low. For reference, my car, parked in front of my house in a nice neighborhood in Burien, has been broken into more than three times during that same period.

BAT does find people sleeping by the doors of the Annex. There are dry spaces by the doors, and some heat does leak from the doors, I am sure. BAT tries not to disturb people, unless necessary. However, when asked politely to move, people have always moved without incident.

Having said that, would it be better if the people of Burien solved the homeless issue? Of course, it would be. (Considering the problem is at epidemic proportions, and in greater Seattle, I doubt a solution is coming soon.)

My main concern is that for whatever issues people raise, the value of the Annex to the City of Burien should not be overlooked. Let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Additionally, people should know the Annex is not some scary place where negative issues abound. My personal experience has been that when we treat each other with respect and courtesy, the Annex is an excellent place for theater. It is where I see beneficial nonprofits thrive.

– Eric Dickman

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