At Monday night’s (April 27, 2020) Burien City Council Study Session, the future of the troubled Burien Annex facility will be discussed, and one of the tenants – Burien Actors Theatre (BAT) – is making a last ditch effort to save its home.

The city is recommending that the Annex be demolished immediately, following tenant relocation.

“Staff does not recommend renovating the Annex, as the cost to renovate is more than rebuilding a facility of similar size and design. The staff recommends demolition over securing the building as it will provide the lowest risk of system failures, crime occurring on site, and the possibility of vandalism and further losses to the building. Furthermore, demolition costs less than securing the building for at least three years.”

At least seven non-profits were set to be evicted by the city on Jan. 31, 2020, causing quite an uproar in our pre-COVID-19 Burien (read our extensive previous coverage here).

Here’s some background:

    • The Annex was built as an elementary school in 1948, has been renovated, and has served as home to at least seven non-profits, including Transform Burien, Burien Co-op Preschool, Para Los Niños and BAT (since 1956); other tenants like the Hi-Liners have found new homes or have closed.
    • In December, 2019, City Manager Brian Wilson announced that the Annex would close and all tenants evicted on Jan. 31, 2020, based on what many considered to be a faulty Facility Condition Assessment released by Meng Analysis, which did not include any testing.
    • On Jan. 16, 2020, the City Council authorized Wilson to repair the most immediate “life safety issues” at the Annex.
    • The city released test results on Jan. 17, 2020 that revealed “unsafe levels of asbestos, lead, and mold in some areas of the Burien Annex.”
    • Interim repairs to the troubled facility were recently completed, at a cost of $17,596. These repairs apparently addressed all concerns about any “unsafe levels.”
    • Due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, the city is now dealing with having to make severe budget cuts.
    • Collectively, tenants pay almost $6,000 a month in rent to the City.

ON MONDAY NIGHT’S COUNCIL AGENDA
Here’s the agenda item scheduled to be discussed on Monday night:

The purpose of this agenda item is to discuss options for the future of the Community Center Annex (Annex), which is slated to close to tenants on July 31, 2020. Questions for consideration include how the building will be closed, the schedule for closure, and the funding for this work. City Council requested that this item be brought forth for discussion at the March 2, 2020 City Council meeting. Please see the Staff Memo in Attachment A for more details.

Options

    • Option 1: A contractor would be hired to demolish the building and underground utilities, rough grade and seed the site. This option would not include any park improvements, as the site would be preserved until the community engagement process identifies priorities for the site.
    • Option 2: City staff would manage securing the building by boarding up windows and doors, fencing the outside of the building, enhancing the physical and manual security systems, continuing with pest control, fire protection systems, and the provision of some utilities to the building. This option would provide time for the community to prioritize ultimate use of the building and site.

Administrative Recommendation
A multi-departmental staff team recommends Option 1, demolishing the Annex immediately following tenant relocation. Staff does not recommend renovating the Annex, as the cost to renovate is more than rebuilding a facility of similar size and design. The staff recommends demolition over securing the building as it will provide the lowest risk of system failures, crime occurring on site, and the possibility of vandalism and further losses to the building. Furthermore, demolition costs less than securing the building for at least three years.

Alternatively, Option 2 would secure the building after closure. It would entail boarding up the building and installing a fence around it, as well as installing security systems and more outdoor lighting at the building. This option would also include contracted security to monitor the building. While these costs are higher in the longer term, they would occur on a monthly basis and would be more manageable to fund out of the operating budget. The challenges with this option are that the site will not appear aesthetically pleasing to neighboring residents and park users. In addition, the City will struggle to maintain the asset from vandalism weekly, if not more frequently, costing the city more in labor, materials, and contracted services. Furthermore, a three year closure is the minimum amount of time necessary to evaluate the community’s needs for a building and designing, permitting, funding and constructing a building. In all likelihood, the process would take longer.

BAT has been part of a theatrical tradition in Burien dating back to 1956. Today, BAT produces multiple shows per year and has expanded beyond theater to improv, music, and other forms of art.

BAT prides itself “on producing affordable high-quality productions efficiently and economically.”

Based on a study performed by the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington, BAT generates over $140,000 per year in indirect revenue for the City of Burien. Most of this is in the form of increased revenue to local restaurants and bars from non-residents.

BAT has sent a letter to the council (full text below), asking the City to lease the entirety of the South Building for three renewable one-year periods at current rates per square foot beginning at the end of any COVID-19 state restrictions on events for over 100 people.

“BAT will commit to maintaining our current season of mainstage shows and will endeavor to expand our offerings to keep the theatre in use year-round,” organizers said. “We know the Arts World will never be the same and are ready to respond in a dynamic fashion and explore other performance formats.”

BAT adds:

    • Evicting nonprofits in the middle of a pandemic will cost the City needed revenue, leave a vital public building empty, and deprive the city of needed arts and human services organizations.
    • A vacant building would be attractive for graffiti or vandalism. If the building were torn down without a plan, it would be a black mark for the city.
    • If we do not act now, we could lose decades of work building our local arts and business community. That would be devastating to our local economy and quality of life.

Here are the basics of BAT’s proposal:

    • BAT will pay 10% of any revenue above $200,000 per year. With more space, BAT will be able to expand its theatrical and other offerings, provide educational opportunities, and otherwise generate revenue in new ways.
    • BAT is supportive of other reasonable means to raise revenue for the needs of the Annex or Arts and Human Services.
    • BAT will honor the terms by which Transform Burien uses the kitchen for the full three-year period.
    • BAT will commit to making the theater reasonably available to other non-profits.
    • BAT would propose an Annex Advisory Committee with representatives from BAT, Transform Burien, BCP, the City, and the Public to advise the Council on solutions when issues with the buildings arise.
    • Over the course of this short-term extension, the Annex Advisory Committee can look at ways to use BATs unique status as an Arts Nonprofit to leverage possible grant and other funds to remodel or replace the Annex or other City property with a multi-purpose facility that could serve the Community for years to come.

Here’s text of BAT’S full letter to the council:

To members of the Burien City Council:

Attached is a brief overview of a proposal we are submitting for your consideration. This is a short-term plan for the immediate future. It is our hope that this will allow for the remaining tenants to stay at the Annex while the City plans the future of the building.

As a regional theater, BAT was having an excellent year prior to the COVID-19 Public Health crisis. We have built an audience from all over the Puget Sound and beyond. If not for the impact of this crisis the 2019-20 season would have been the best in our long history.

BAT has worked hard to build a diverse audience and wants to be able to continue to share our love of theatre and the arts with all members of our community. We are proud to have been long time supporters of Burien Pride, have done co-productions with the Latino Theatre Projects, and believe that Arts are an essential part of our social fabric. We are one of the few theaters in the region to have cast African American, transgender, and other traditionally excluded people in leading roles. We want to continue to play our part in showcasing Burien as a diverse and livable city for all people.

All people means all people and we believe that theater should be affordable. Like many theaters we offer discount tickets to seniors and students. Unlike many theaters we also have $7 Sunday, $13 Saturdays and make our final dress rehearsal free to students. We also have provided scholarship funds to students studying the arts. We are strongly committed to making sure that everyone has the chance to see or be a part of live theater.

We also strongly believe that Arts is critical to a healthy economy. This goes beyond the economic benefit our patrons bring to the City. We help market our city’s businesses and our BATcoin program incentivizes people to frequent our local businesses. We are always looking to expand partnerships like Dinner and a Show Packages and plan to be a key part of helping our local economy recover from this crisis.

We greatly appreciate the effort the City has made to help navigate these uncertain and difficult times. This health crisis has impacted us all and only by working together can we emerge stronger and better than before. We know that the impact on the City’s budget will be extreme. We have been severely impacted as well and know the difficult choices that we will all face in the near term. We want to be part of the solution and are committed to doing our part to help.

We can only do that if we have a place to perform. We have pursued and exhausted every lead and opportunity for alternate space. We have considered more options than we can count. Debra George, Andrea Reay, and others have gone above and beyond to help, but unfortunately none of the options we explored have been workable. If we were evicted from the Annex as currently planned it would likely be the end of Burien Actors Theatre. The Theatre would go dark.

It would not only be our revenue and economic activity that would be lost. The remaining tenants provide critical and important service to our community including helping people in need and enabling employment though affordable quality childcare. This benefits the City economically and helps provide the quality of life that we all deserve.

We hope that you will consider this proposal as the starting point for a further discussion.

Sincerely,
Burien Actors Theatre Board of Trustees