Plans Scaled Back for Arts Center; Backers Remain Optimistic

By Beacon Staff

Organizers of the long-proposed Glacier Performing Arts Center recently revamped their building plans – scaling down in size and costs – and expect in the next few months to know whether the project’s a go, or if it’s time, at least temporarily, to close the curtains.

“The positive thing is that everybody we talk to wants this – no one out there says we don’t need this or that it’s ridiculous or doesn’t fit here,” Jason Peters, the GPAC board president, said. “But loving to have it and wanting it is different than supporting it and having the financial means to actually do it.”

In the next three months, the arts center’s board and director expect to receive answers from several possible donors the organization has been courting over the past year. If there are enough positive replies, they will continue their efforts in earnest. If not, they said they would reconsider whether the community is able to support the effort at this time.

Original plans for the proposed center were for a glass and brick building that featured a main, 1,300-seat performance hall, a smaller “black-box” theater with room for 250 to 300 people, off-stage dressing and storage areas, an extensive lobby and an 85-foot-tall “fly tower,” which would be used to raise and change scenery and backdrops. The facility would operate primarily on a space-for-hire basis.

The goal was to fill a niche for a larger, professional performance hall with amenities suitable for traveling Broadway productions and Glacier Symphony and Chorale performances, as well as smaller community groups and private events.

After almost four years of aggressive fundraising, the organization has gathered about $4.7 million – a significant amount for a nonprofit in the Flathead Valley, but well short of their original $27 million goal. A land donation for property near the Red Lion Hotel has expired, but Peters said he was confident the hotel company would still consider the project if funds were raised.

As they’ve searched for donations, GPAC Executive Director Andrea Goff said a common response to the project emerged from the community: The interest and need is there, but the price tag is too high. So the group reconsidered and went back to the drawing board last fall and came up with new plans this month, reducing the total size of the project by almost 10,000 square feet and $7 million.

The new plans, which eliminate the smaller theater and reduce the size of the fly tower, main performance hall and lobby, still meet the group’s original goal, Goff said, but make fundraising more feasible.

“You either need a really big donation base, which we just don’t have here in the Flathead because people who live and work here year round generally don’t have the money for that, or a few very sizeable donations which are hard to find,” Goff said. “We wanted to get the price down further because 27 million is a tremendous amount for this valley, and, I think, more than any other capital campaign has ever tried here.”

Alan Satterlee, executive director of the Glacier Symphony and Chorale, said a venue like GPAC would be a “dream come true” for his organization, eliminating scheduling conflicts with the high schools – currently the only large venues in the valley – and providing superior acoustics. “I think they’re doing the right thing trying to reduce the cost, getting it to the point where people can see reality behind it and not just a dream, where the goal’s not so high where everyone gasps when they hear it,” he said.

Talk of building a performing arts center in Kalispell dates back as far as two decades, and in two instances the arts center board set out on a frenetic fundraising pace trying to meet tight deadlines: First, when it had the opportunity to attach the center to Glacier High School and later when Red Lion donated downtown property, but with a construction deadline. Both times the board had less than a year to raise most of the total needed, and both times the amount proved insurmountable.

As the group begins another push with new plans, Goff remains confident that a large theater project will eventually succeed in Kalispell. “It will happen; it’s the way cities evolve as they grow,” she said. “We have the opportunity here now so hopefully we can take advantage of it, but if now is not the right time it will be obvious later when it is.”