Frequently Asked Questions

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What is MICA?


MICA stands for Mercer Island Center for the Arts, an organization working to build a performing and visual arts center on Mercer Island.  MICA is more than a building.  It is an organization that embodies a passion for the arts and seeks to provide a common point of contact for the many talents and artistic endeavors so prevalent in our community.

The MICA facility will be a cultural focal point on Mercer Island for residents and neighboring communities to enjoy, create, and celebrate excellence in the arts.  It will inspire generations of artists, audiences, and students through exceptional live performances, visual arts, special events, exhibitions, and unparalleled educational experiences and opportunities. 

Mercer Island Center for the Arts is a public charity formed by a group of Mercer Island residents. MICA's Board of Directors consists of 18 Mercer Island community leaders with a broad array of experience and expertise. MICA was incorporated as a Washington State nonprofit corporation on December 5, 2013 and was formally recognized by the IRS as 501(c)(3) organization on September 8, 2014. This makes MICA a public charity, identical to organizations such as Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Symphony, both of which are nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status.

Why build MICA now?


There is a strong unaddressed need on Mercer Island for space for both performances and arts education. The MICA facility would support long-standing Island arts institutions, particularly Youth Theatre Northwest, which lost its home in 2014 and is currently in temporary facilities at Emmanuel Episcopal Church.  Other organizations interested in using spaces at the new art center include Music Works Northwest and island-based arts organizations including the Children’s Dance Conservatory/Island Youth Ballet, Musical Mind Studio, Russian Chamber Music Foundation, and Mercer Island Visual Arts League

For 33+ years, Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) has been a beloved educational and cultural institution on Mercer Island serving thousands of children and families. YTN is currently operating out of interim space and is struggling to survive. Its revenues have fallen significantly because of limited seating and its workload has skyrocketed because everything must be stored between performances due to lack of space. YTN needs a permanent home to continue the amazing programming it produces every day for our kids and our community. MICA will provide that home.

MICA’s additional resident users spoke up early in the planning process and confirmed their need for such an arts center as well. MICA will provide classroom and studio space that will partially compensate for lost space for artists at the Mercer Island Community and Events Center (MICEC) and for the classrooms and studio space demolished at the old YTN facility.

Where will MICA be located?


The Arts Center will be located at the northwest corner of Mercerdale Park, near the intersection of 77th Avenue SE and SE 32nd street, on the site of the abandoned recycling center. The site includes a concrete plaza and flagpole (Bicentennial Park), the recycle storage building, public bathrooms, sinks and storage for the Farmers Market, asphalt paving and an unmaintained wooded area which is currently in poor health.  

It was and is agreed by MICA and the City that the MICA building will not infringe upon any current use of Mercerdale Park. The western slope, with its trails and stairway, will remain wooded and intact. The walkway around the great lawn of the park will remain in place, as will the lawn itself, the pergola, the children’s play area and the skateboard park. The wooded area between the skateboard park and MICA will be smaller because of the project, and MICA has undertaken to work with the City to re-landscape and turn this area into a space all Islanders can enjoy.

Map of Mercerdale Park showing MICA's footprint in yellow:



Why was Mercerdale Park chosen?


The site for the project is the result of several years of intense work by Mercer Island residents, along with members of City Council and City staff, to find a replacement venue for Youth Theatre Northwest.  While numerous options were reviewed, all others had insurmountable barriers.  It was also apparent that an arts center at Mercerdale Park would contribute to the vision for a vibrant Town Center.  At the end of the site selection process the City Council decided that the recycle center at Mercerdale was, and is, the optimal site.  This decision was confirmed by memorandum of understanding signed by MICA and the City.

For more details, click here.

Were other locations considered for an arts center? What process was followed?


Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) was notified in 2012 that it would be displaced from its location on school district property as the site was needed for a new elementary school. For two years thereafter, YTN worked diligently to find an adequate replacement site on Mercer Island. Their efforts included unsuccessful attempts to partner with private developers to build multi-use structures on commercial sites in the Town Center. Properties explored either proved unavailable due to lease agreements, had irregular and/or insufficient building footprints, or resulted in buildings of excessive height. There were also significant financial challenges in pairing the needs of commercial developers with a small nonprofit arts organization. In 2012, as part of its effort to find a new home, YTN worked with the Miller Hull architecture firm (Miller Hull generously provided its services pro bono) to create a building program identifying the configuration of spaces that YTN would need.

A proposed plan to partner with the MI school district to create a school for the arts, including a performing arts center with YTN in residence, was abandoned due to insufficient interest on the part of the school district.  The City explored purchasing the old Boys and Girls Club site for YTN but found the purchase price prohibitively expensive.  Luther Burbank Park, “Kite Hill,” and several commercial sites west of City Hall were also explored, but the costs and other extenuating factors made them untenable.

YTN began looking off-Island and exploring partnerships with other arts organizations. Although unsuccessful, these efforts by YTN spurred the City into action to keep YTN on the Island.  In the spring of 2013, a City task force comprised of City Manager Rich Conrad, Council members Jane Meyer Brahm and Tana Senn, and YTN Executive Director Manuel Cawaling was charged with finding a site for YTN on City property.

The City of Mercer Island hired architectural firm Weinstein A|U in May 2013 for a Performing Arts Theater Site Feasibility Study, looking at the abandoned recycling center site and a site behind the Mercer Island Community and Event Center (MICEC). Weinstein A|U was given the YTN building program that had been generated in 2012 by Miller Hull, as a basis for determining what kind of building would be needed. Weinstein did a comprehensive study and generated a report with all the details of the analysis and a recommendation for the best option.

Ultimately the only site deemed viable was the abandoned recycling center at Mercerdale Park. The MICEC site was rejected because it lacked visibility and created additional parking problems for the existing facility. The Mercerdale site was preferred because of its ability to contribute to a more vibrant Town Center. The City’s Task Force made this recommendation to the City Council in August of 2013, and the City issued a letter of agreement with YTN, affirming its intention to make the former recycling center site available for further study and analysis as a future performing arts facility.

Key dates and milestones leading up to selection of Mercerdale Park as the best site for the proposed arts facility can be found here.

What is the timeline of the site selection process?


Below are the important dates and milestones leading up to selection of Mercerdale Park as the best site for the proposed arts center. The process, described above in detail, involved the City Council, several City staff, the Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) executive director, independent experts on site evaluation and selection, members of the arts community and the public.

The relevant links to City Council meeting minutes, reports, newspaper articles and other documents are included.

Nov 2012        YTN is notified that it will be displaced from its location on school district property.

May 2013        May 2013 Performing Arts Alternatives/Comparison. This is the briefing book for the City Council mini-planning session at which alternatives and locations for a new home for YTN were examined.

June 2013        June 8 Mini Planning Session

Mercer Island City Council vets possible nonprofit development at Mercerdale Park. (Article published in MI Reporter on June 11, 2013.)

August 2013    Text of Council Action from August 12 meeting  that authorized YTN to proceed with Recycling Center site. Exact motion approved is as follows:

“Accept the recommendations of the Study Committee and communicate to Youth Theater Northwest its intention to make the former Recycling Center site (described as Alternative 1 of the Performing Arts Center Analysis) available for further study and analysis as a future Mercer Island Performing Arts facility.”

Sept 2013        YTN performing arts center will enrich community. (Article by Manuel Cawaling, Executive Director of YTN, published in The Mercer Island Reporter in September 2013.)

Nov 2013        Letter of Understanding dated November 7, 2013, signed by the City and YTN. The key provisions are as follows:

  • The City’s role would be confined to providing the land for the facility plus access to parking spaces at the Thrift Shop and in the adjacent public rights-of-way.
  • The footprint of the facility will be at the recycling center and Bicentennial Park.
  • City sets a 2-year period for YTN’s assessment of the site as an arts facility.
  • YTN will undertake the design, construction, financing, and management of the facility.
  • The City-YTN relationship would be that City would lease the land to YTN.

June 2014        Letter of Understanding dated June 10, 2014, signed by the City, YTN, and MICA. The key provisions are as follows:

  • Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA), incorporated in Washington as a nonprofit in December 2013, will take over from YTN as the legal entity responsible for designing, constructing, financing, and managing the proposed arts facility, with YTN being the major tenant in the new facility.
  • Proposed facility is now referred to as Mercer Island Center for the Arts (MICA).
  • The proposed facility’s mission has been extended beyond performing arts to include visual arts and cultural programming.

August 2014    Letter of Understanding dated August 11, 2014, signed by the City and MICA. It authorizes the expansion of the facility footprint to a portion of the wooded area immediately south of the abandoned recycling center that is sometimes referred as the northwest native garden.


Below is a sampling of MICA-related coverage in the press over the last two years.

Sept 2013        Letter from YTN Executive Director Manuel Cawaling to the Mercer Island Reporter YTN performing arts center will enrich community about the City’s “green light” to look at the Mercerdale Park site.

Nov 2013        MI Reporter article Theater supporters go to work that appeared after the first MICA community meeting.

Feb 2014         MI Reporter article YTN getting ready to pack, move mentions the second community meeting in January 2014.

Feb 2014         The announcement by YTN Executive Director Manuel Cawaling in MI Reporter Youth Theatre Northwest announces upcoming move in letter to supporters that YTN would be closing and seeking temporary space while MICA is being built

Oct 2014         MI Reporter article Mercer Island Center for Arts begins next phase. The article goes into detail about the proposed Mercerdale Park location.

Jan 2015          MI Reporter article Mercer Island Center for the Arts selects design team talks about selection of MICA’s design team.

What's inside the MICA building?


MICA will be a theater and visual arts venue which also houses classrooms and studios for dance, music, and art. Plays, concerts, recitals, lectures and multiple forms of arts will take place within the building. It will be a place for creating, exhibiting, and celebrating the performing and visual arts while providing a cultural gathering place for Island residents and neighboring communities.

MICA will be the permanent home for Youth Theatre Northwest and the thousands of children YTN serves. It will be a venue to serve Island Youth Ballet/Children's Dance Conservatory, Music Works Northwest, Russian Chamber Music Foundation of Seattle, Mercer Island Visual Arts League (MIVAL), and Musical Mind Studio. MICA will also provide storage space and outdoor sinks to support the Farmers Market. MICA will also provide public restrooms to service park users.


How much area does MICA plan to lease?


MICA's proposed lease area is 0.96 acres (42,207 sq ft). The area covered by the proposed building and surrounding impervious surfaces is 0.83 acres (approximately 36,000 sq ft) a little more than two times the area of the recycling center.

What is the building’s footprint?


Currently, the proposed building footprint is approximately 25,000 sq ft, per redesigned plans announced in January 2016, to completely avoid the small finger of wetland nearby with proper ecological buffers. The gross area of the building (including the space on second floor) is approximately 34,000 sq ft. The building is still being designed, so the final footprint may reduce due to trade-offs made to maximize value.

MICA is a strong proponent of Mercerdale Park, and is committed to designing a building that fits into the park setting and provides active uses for the park.  MICA’s latest plans and drawings are included in its recent SEPA submission to the City.  As is customary for projects of this scope and nature, design work on the project continues and details will continue to evolve throughout the design process. 

How did the broader MICA vision come about?


The Mercer Island residents who came together to assist Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN) in finding a new home soon learned that Mercer Island has much larger unmet community needs in performing and visual arts. Over the past several years, the Mercer Island community has lost 14,000 square feet of space dedicated to the arts in the old YTN building and in areas previously available to artists at Mercer Island Community and Event Center, which are now used by daycare providers.

The community-transforming vision to provide one location for dedicated space for YTN as well as for many other arts-related activities and education was first formulated at a public task force meeting in November 2013. Participants at the meeting spoke passionately about their specific needs for artistic performance, educational, studio and display spaces. MICA’s name and mission were developed as a result of that first task force meeting, and MICA requested detailed information from the arts organizations and artists who participated in the meeting about their space needs and projected days and hours of use in a new arts facility. Here is the handout distributed at the meeting and the follow-up email sent after that. What had been the “Mercer Island Performing Arts Center” became the Mercer Island Center for the Arts. MICA began as a nonprofit organization in December 2013, after the first community meeting. 

In February of 2014 a second public meeting was held, at which initial thoughts on the configuration of MICA were presented by Lesley Bain, island resident and the head architect of Framework Cultural Placemaking. The initial building configuration, which included classrooms and studios, as well as three performance spaces, was based on the feedback that had been provided by task force members after the first public meeting.  The initial “big picture” of MICA was very enthusiastically embraced at the meeting, and the nucleus of a resident user group began to form.

In March of 2014, after Framework Cultural Placemaking had been engaged for preliminary design of the MICA facility, a full-day design meeting with MICA Board members and prospective resident users was held. As the architects were incorporating the programming needs of the artistic community into the preliminary design, it became apparent that the building would either need to be expanded to three stories or to extend south of the recycling center site. This information was presented to the City Council in the spring of 2014, and the City agreed to expand MICA’s footprint into the area just to the south of the recycling center site.  The council approval is documented in the Letter of Understanding dated August 11, 2014.

How much of the park does MICA cover?


Mercerdale Park covers an area of 30.9 acres including the abandoned recycling center and Bicentennial park plaza which together currently comprise approximately 1.2% of the park. MICA’s entire footprint, including plaza space, a possible mandatory fire access path and an outdoor performance area will comprise approximately 2.7% of the park. Over 97% of Mercerdale Park will be unchanged by MICA.

The images below show the total area of the park along with trails, walking and bike paths, Bicentennial Park, the pergola, skateboard park and children’s play area. The inset image shows the area containing the great lawn and recycling center before and after the MICA building is in place.

What will be the impact of MICA on the park?


None of the maintained trails or public spaces will be affected.

The walkway around the great lawn of the park will remain in place, as will the lawn itself, the pergola, the children’s play area and the skateboard park. The western slope, with its trails and stairway, will remain wooded and intact. The wooded and unmaintained area between the recycling center and the skateboard park will be smaller as a result of the MICA project and MICA has undertaken to work with the City to re-landscape and improve this area. The entire area surrounding the building will be landscaped with proper soils and native plantings.

MICA plans to provide an aesthetically pleasing building, plaza and landscaping as reflected by the conceptual renderings of the proposed project. MICA’s design team was chosen for their recognized design expertise and for their knowledge of Mercer Island. Led by Mercer Island native, Lesley Bain, FAIA, the team includes members who have designed public facilities and theaters throughout the country (including local examples McCaw Hall and Chihuly Garden and Glass).

The team’s landscape architect, OLIN, selected to ensure the integration of the facility with Mercerdale Park and for their commitment to creating sustainable and natural public spaces, has designed award-winning parks including Bryant Park and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Academy of Fine Arts and Barnes Museum in Philadelphia and Director’s Park in Portland, Oregon. The use of drought tolerant native plantings will not only play a role in our LEED certification, but will also create a more functional ecological habitat than currently exists in the park.

Will there be a firelane cutting through Mercerdale Park?


The fire access path may be required by the City per our ongoing State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) review. If the path is required, it will be used for emergencies only - not for deliveries, general access, etc. MICA does not propose to completely pave the fire access path, rather MICA proposes to use grasscrete for the portion of the path that is wider than the pedestrian walkway. It is a pervious solution with many aesthetic and environmental advantages. 

Click here to learn more on the City of Mercer Island's web page.

What is MICA's plan to stabilize the hillside, manage water runoff, and improve drainage, trails and stairs?


The hillside will be stabilized where necessary with a retaining wall. The trails will not be changed or impacted by MICA. The stairs leading to First Hill will be integrated into the MICA plaza area.

Storm drainage requirements for the City of Mercer Island adhere to the Washington State Department of Ecology Stormwater Management Manual (2005 Edition).  The manual requires on-site stormwater management, runoff treatment and flow control, and MICA will be required to and is committed to meet those requirements. 

Surface runoff from the hillside will be intercepted by swales that will be strategically graded into the hillside to minimize impacts to the existing vegetation. The northern swales will be connected to the existing Trellis public storm drain line on the north edge of the site and the southern swale will convey hillside runoff to the wetland buffer due north of the wetland. The wetland will overflow into a catch basin located north of the wetland. Flow control will occur through onsite detention. A storm water detention tank is designed to be underground and will not be visible.

The trails will not be changed or impacted by MICA. The western slope, with its trails and stairway, will remain wooded and intact. The stairs leading to First Hill will be integrated into the MICA plaza area. When MICA is complete, the current park uses will all be continued. There will be a walkway around the park lawn, the pergola, the children’s play area and the skateboard park. The wooded area between the skateboard park and MICA – currently in poor ecological health – will be smaller as a result of the project. MICA has undertaken to work with the City to re-landscape and turn this area into a space all Islanders can enjoy.

Is there a bioretention pond included in the MICA plans?


No, the bio retention pond was removed from the MICA plans and all reference to bio-swales have been removed from the recent SEPA submission. 

Will the hedge of trees in front of the recycling center be removed and/or replaced when MICA is built?


The hedge along the path was planted to screen the recycling center activities. It has grown large, is unattractively sheared along the edge of the path to allow people to use the path, and does not appear to be in good health. These plants will be replaced with trees along the edge of the building. The new trees will include both deciduous and evergreen trees to create a wooded setting for the building.

MICA’s environmental consultants, The Watershed Company, assessed the impact of the proposed project on trees.

The proposed MICA site plan calls for the removal of 54 conifers and 58 deciduous trees. The deciduous population being removed consisted mostly of “weedy” trees; the coniferous population being removed consists of western red cedars and Douglas firs, nearly all of which currently have been determined to be dead or in severe condition. The proposed mitigation plan specifies 74 trees to be planted within the wetland buffer, including 60 conifers and 14 deciduous trees, which would meet replacement requirements defined in MICC 19.10.060. This includes full replacement of all conifers to be removed and partial replacement of the “weedy” deciduous species to be removed. The plan also specifies soil amendments designed to improve the health of both the proposed new trees and remaining trees on the site.

How is MICA addressing the wetlands concern?


After examining the available options to address this issue, MICA’s Board in the Fall of 2015 directed its design team to develop a new building footprint located entirely outside of the finger of wetland and a 25-foot buffer. The footprint also remains outside of the perimeter walking path around Mercerdale lawn. This new plan still fulfills the programmatic needs of the MICA users and community, as identified in MICA’s studies. Since the revised design does not disturb the existing wetland, it is unlikely that the plan will require review or approval by either the Army Corps of Engineers or the State Department of Ecology, which the City Attorney confirmed with both those agencies.

Click here for the new footprint of the building. 

Why is the buffer 25 FT?


The site has been investigated by The Watershed Company, an environmental consultants who have also worked on Bellevue Botanical Gardens, Lake Chelan State Park, and Tyee Middle School, among many others. They identified a find of Category III wetland located in the southern portion of MICA's proposed lease area. Four categories of wetland are identified in the City of Mercer Island code (Section 19.07.080) with Category I being the most sensitive, and Category IV the least. Much of the wetland is situated on a slope above the skate park, and most of the wetland was filled nearly 50 years ago in the area where Mercerdale lawn is now.

City code (Section 19.07.080) allows for a reduction of buffer zones for Category III wetlands when a critical area study is done with mitigation that results in no net loss of wetland and buffer functions. MICA has worked with The Watershed Company to develop a mitigation plan that proposes a reduction of the buffer to 25 ft and to mitigate this reduction by restoring the ecological function to over 11,000 sq ft of native trees and shrubs and infill plantings. The net effect will be a major improvement to the ecological function and aesthetics of a long-degraded habitat. The mitigation plan will be peer reviewed and is subject to City approval.

Why was this not done in the first place?


The original site of the recycling center and the adjacent NW planting area was known to be a wet location. It was anticipated that the toe of the slope to the west of the MICA site would have drainage issues. MICA commissioned a geotechnical survey in February 2015 by Hart Crowser, a well-respected environmental engineering firm, that confirmed the poor soils on the site. Accordingly, geotechnical and structural engineers told MICA that the building foundation will require a system of augur-cast pilings.

To better understand the hydrology of the site, MICA contracted with The Watershed Company in May 2015 to do a wetland survey. The Watershed Company classified the finger of wetland on the site as a Category III, meaning it was of relatively low hydrological and ecological significance. MICA was aware that the 1500 square foot wetland area on the site would be within the current City code’s 2500 square foot threshold allowing mitigation of Category III wetlands. However, Watershed’s analysis found that the small finger of wetland on the proposed MICA site connected with a larger, two-acre wetland to the south. Under the existing code, even though MICA’s construction would only affect 1500 square feet, the finger was considered a two-acre wetland. After consulting with independent legal counsel and several developers familiar with development involving critical areas, MICA learned that the process for mitigating this 1.7% of a two-acre total wetland with a higher-quality wetland would require a change of the City code and involve the State Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers.

After much analysis, the redesign of the building to avoid wetlands completely, while preserving the programmatic needs, emerged as the most viable option among several considered and evaluated and that is the way MICA decided to proceed.

How does MICA plan to handle parking for its visitors?


Dedicated on-site parking is not desirable to build within Mercerdale Park, nor feasible to build underground. In early 2016, the City commissioned Berk Consulting to conduct a study of non-residential parking in the Mercer Island Town Center that identified empty off-street parking spots were available within a short distance of the proposed site. The study showed more than 1800 off-street spaces and more than 100 on-street spaces were available in the Town Center during the early afternoon peak, with more available in the evening hours when MICA would be heavily used. Pending City approval, MICA will pursue agreements with businesses in the area to allow after-hours parking for MICA patrons in parking stalls that would otherwise be empty.

The City has also proposed, as part of its Town Center development plan, restriping 77th Avenue SE to provide more than 70 curbside parking spaces. Parking spaces the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Thrift Shop at the southeast corner of Mercerdale Park, that are typically unused in the evening, are also within a short distance of MICA. MICA is working with the City and transportation consultants Transpo Group to refine the proposed Parking Management Plan to meet parking needs in accordance with City regulations.

MICA has applied for a Zoning Text Amendment to allow combined use of on-street and off-site parking for public institutions in the P Zone. This approach is the proper way to amend zoning and is commonly used in communities nationwide, particularly for institutions which provide public benefit. MICA is using the same process that was used by the School District for several recent projects including Lakeridge Elementary.

Is there dedicated parking for MICA employees?


There is no designated parking for future employees of MICA, and they will take the same approach to parking as other MICA visitors. It is anticipated that staff parking will be fewer than 20 cars. The overall transportation management plan (see here) will also address employee parking.  

Is it true that the City plans to restripe 77th Ave SE in order to provide parking for MICA?


In June 2016, the City Council approved the possible elimination of the center left turn lane and bike lanes on 77th Avenue SE as part of the new Town Center plan. The dedicated bike lanes would be replaced with sharrows, allowing for on-street parking. The Council’s decision last year was informed by the months of Town Center meetings, hearings and written comments before a Stakeholder Group representing businesses and residents, the Planning and Design Commissions (meeting together) and City Council. If implemented, this parking would be available for public use, potentially including commuter parking for Mercer Island residents only. Other uses of the parking would be determined by restrictions (or lack of restrictions). If there were no restrictions at night or on weekends, this public parking could be open for anyone to use.

Click here to learn more from the City of Mercer Island's website.

How many spaces does MICA need and how do you know?


If all venues at MICA were simultaneously sold out, MICA patrons would need approximately 200 parking spaces. The Peak Activity Scenario was developed taking into consideration the groups and organizations that may use MICA facilities throughout the year. Current forecasts expect sell-out performances in multiple venues at the same time only a few times a year.

MICA retained the Transpo Group to complete transportation studies including a Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA). The City is reviewing their work as part of the SEPA process. The City selected DKS as the peer-review consultants. This work covers traffic, parking and access, service, turning movement and proposed changes in the right-of-way, such as new crosswalks.

Won’t we see a bottleneck and congestion when parents drop off their kids for classes and rehearsals?


MICA’s design will create a safe drop-off and pick-up area at the intersection of 77th and 32nd. Drop-off and pick-up operations will take place in the public right of way and will utilize space from available on-street parking along 77th Avenue SE as needed. Time restrictions when on-street parking is needed as drop-off and pick-up space will be determined by the MICA activity schedule.

The loading dock for the theater is on the north side of the building, accessed from the intersection of 77th Avenue and SE 32nd street. Deliveries will occur here intermittently, mostly in small trucks. Screened trash facilities would be located on the north side of the building, accessible by trash truck.

Will MICA have accessible parking?


Yes, MICA’s design will include accessible parking spaces. Current plans have 5 ADA compliant handicapped parking spaces accessed off 32nd Street.

Won’t MICA interfere with the Farmers Market?


No, in fact MICA will be an important asset to the Farmers Market.

MICA’s design team has worked closely with the Mercer Island Farmers Market and the Mercer Island Parks and Recreation Department to make sure that the building is designed to address the needs and concerns of the Farmers Market. MICA will provide and maintain storage, sinks and hand washing stations, and all other Health Department requirements needed by the Mercer Island Farmers Market to operate. MICA considers the Farmers Market a principal project partner.

During construction of the MICA building, temporary support facilities for the Farmers Market will be provided. The leadership of the Farmers Market has detailed their operational needs to MICA’s design team and contractor, and plans are in place to satisfy those needs throughout the construction period.

Will there still be public restrooms?



MICA’s obligations to the City include public restrooms to be built by MICA and made available to the public without having to enter the MICA building.  They will be clean, well-lit and more inviting than the current restrooms at the abandoned recycling center.

Will there be any costs to the city after MICA's capital campaign?


MICA will be the owner and operator of the Mercer Island Center for the Arts, and as such, responsible for its budget.  The City may choose to support MICA’s operations but is under no obligation to do so.

The City will not be responsible for MICA’s budget. The proposed lease between MICA and the City requires MICA to submit and receive the City’s approval of an operating plan and budget for the facility before MICA may begin construction.

What are the key provisions regarding benefits and assurances in the lease submitted to City for their consideration?


City of Mercer Island will provide Island residents with a tremendous public benefit, subsidized almost entirely by private donors, by approving a lease for the Mercer Island Center for the Arts. Lease approval will enable MICA to begin the permitting, planning, and fundraising necessary to build a community arts venue.

In addition to creating a cultural and artistic heart for Mercer Island and fostering economic vitality in the Town Center, MICA provides the following specific benefits and amenities to the City and to all MI residents:

  • Removal of old Recycling Center buildings
  • Public/City use of facility for:
    • Arts and education classes
    • Public meetings
    • Recreation
    • Back-up Emergency Operations Center
  •  Support storage facilities and utilities for Farmers Market and Summer Celebration
  • New public restrooms
  • Public plaza with benches, tables and drinking fountains
  • Upgrades to Northwest Native Garden
  • Upgrades to Bicentennial Park
  • Outdoor theatre stage facing Mercerdale Park
  • Cafe and bar

Once a lease is secured for the site, MICA will follow the prescribed process of obtaining permits and meeting its obligations before starting construction. Below is a list of key provisions:

  • Before the start of construction by MICA:
    • Design must be approved by the City
    • Parking plan must be approved by the City
    • All permits (land use, building, etc.) must be issued by the City
    • MICA must raise through contributions, pledges and financing 100% of the construction costs
    • Operations plan and budget must be approved by the City
  • MICA will carry liability insurance to protect itself and the City from any claims arising from the use of the facility
  • The lease terminates after 50 years and the facility then will become the property of the City or the lease may be further renewed.

A large majority of Island residents support building this asset for our community.

What is a Memo of Understanding and how does it impact MICA?


On February 22nd City Council with 6 to 1 vote approved a plan of action (Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU) which represents an important step forward for MICA. This plan of action memorializes the intention on both sides to enter into a lease agreement for MICA at Mercerdale. With this vote, the City Council has demonstrated goodwill and intention to enter into a lease for MICA at Mercerdale after the completion of SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) review. A recent Seattle court ruling requires that a SEPA review be completed prior to entering into the lease. The Seattle case, related to the building of the SoDo sports entertainment complex, held that a governmental agency could not enter into a lease agreement prior to completion of the environmental review.  Once that review is completed, the lease will be brought back to council for review and final action.

Per the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), dated February 22, 2016, between MICA and the City, the full SEPA review and any related appeals must be concluded prior to the City Council’s consideration of approval of the Lease Agreement.

What is a SEPA review?


SEPA stands for State Environmental Policy Act. It is intended to provide a way to identify possible environmental impacts that may result from governmental decisions. Information provided during a SEPA review helps decision makers and the public understand how a proposal will affect the environment. The information can be used to change a proposal to reduce likely impacts, or to condition or deny a proposal when adverse environmental impacts are identified. In MICA’s case, the SEPA review, which will be conducted by the city’s Development Services Group staff, will include, among other things, a traffic impact analysis and identification of adequate parking to meet city code. The process typically takes 3-4 months to complete and includes opportunity for public comment.

The SEPA process is well underway and has afforded the opportunity for much public input. Updated plans and drawings incorporating public and city staff feedback have been included in our most recent submission to the City. As is customary for projects of this scope and nature, design work on the project continues and details will continue to evolve throughout the design process.

The following highlights the steps in the SEPA Review process:

  • Peer review comments to staff. MICA’s geotechnical, traffic and wetland studies are sent to outside consultants for peer review. City staff receives preliminary peer reviews from our wetland, geotechnical and traffic consultants.
  • Final peer review comments to staff. City staff reviews the consultant work and sends comments to our consultants.
  • Final peer review comments to MICA. When the final peer review comments for each discipline are submitted and accepted by City staff, the comments are sent to MICA for review and response.
  • City staff review of MICA responses. City staff reviews the responses from MICA regarding comments from the public, City staff and peer reviewers. If elements of the project are changed or if further clarification is needed, another round of City staff comments are compiled and sent to MICA.
  • SEPA Determination issued. Once all information is submitted to enable a determination of environmental impact.

Click here for more information about the SEPA Review process.

How much money is MICA trying to raise?


The facility is still in the design phase and final costs will not be determined until MICA has met all of the building requirements of the City and secured the lease and necessary permits. When the final cost estimates for the project are available, MICA’s board of directors will set the capital campaign objective.  With all the information available to date, MICA expects a capital campaign amount of at least $25 million. The capital campaign amount will also include an allowance for contingencies, a $1 million operating reserve, and provisions for expected cost escalation.

Where will the funding come from?


Nearly all of the funding will come from private individuals and foundations. MICA has raised over $5 million in contributions and pledges from individual donors.


Why was the recycling center built there? Why and when was it abandoned?


The recycling center was built in 1976 in response to the activism of The Committee to Save the Earth at Mercer Island High School. There was a need for a recycling center because there was no residential pick-up of recycling available at that time. The recycling center operated for 34 years.  

The Recycle Center Site – Community Process Results document dated July 2010 describes the decision to close the recycle center and discusses potential uses of this site. Below is an excerpt:

“With the advent of curbside services, more households now have access to recycling, making a singular drop-off location less efficient. The Mercer Island School District, which has been running the Recycling Center since its inception, made the decision to discontinue recycling operations and has consequently returned the property to the City of Mercer Island on February 28, 2010.“

Why hasn’t the recycling center been torn down and the land restored?


As time passed, new uses for this space that benefit the community have emerged. The Farmers Market began using the facility for storage, sinks, and public restrooms.  In addition to burdening the School District or City with the cost, demolishing the recycling center and returning this area to parkland would effectively eliminate the amenities (bathrooms, storage and handwashing stations) required to run the Farmers Market.

What is MICA's operating plan?


MICA’s operating plan is a three-year projection of its operations and resulting financial performance. MICA’s preliminary operating plan projects steady state annual operating revenue of $543,000, contributed revenue (fundraising) of $323,000 and expenses of $866,000. The plan incorporates input from its resident user groups. The key to sustainability of MICA’s plan is diversified sources of revenue - performance space and rehearsal rentals; classes and proceeds from the box office.

MICA researched, developed and refined its operating plan from April 2014 to December 2015 in consultation with AMS Planning & Research, a global arts and entertainment industry consulting firm with over 25 years’ experience working with hundreds of arts organizations. AMS’ clients have included Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, the Sydney Opera House and the Seattle Symphony as well as numerous community performing arts centers nationwide.

Plan highlights include:

  • Robust usage of 241 total use days (rehearsals, performances and rentals) per performance space

  • Over 2,400 class sessions in the studios, theatre lab and classrooms

  • Over 1,500 classes/lessons in four practice rooms

  • Diversified revenue: 47% from performance space and rehearsal rentals; 40% from classes and 13% from ticketing.

  • Future MICA user groups consulted for the plan include Youth Theatre Northwest, Children’s Dance Conservatory/Island Youth Ballet, Mercer Island Visual Arts League, Music Works Northwest, Musical Mind Studio, and Russian Chamber Music Foundation. Projected support for usage by the Farmers Market and the City were also included.

For conservatism, the model does not include any income from the planned café or from any programs produced by MICA directly on an “at-risk” basis.

“The MICA operating pro forma is based on detailed research in the local arts and cultural sector, data from our nationwide performing arts benchmarking program PACStats and extensive conversations with MICA leadership and local user groups,” said Katie Oman, Director of AMS. “It is informed by industry best practices including conservative attendance estimates and an annual contribution to a 30-year building maintenance reserve fund. Based on the projected activity and normal industry operations, the contributed income level falls well within the expected range for community arts venues, as well as the expected parameters of a vital and productive operation.”

Click here for the full opinion letter from AMS summarizing the operating plan.

Will MICA be self-sufficient after it goes into operation or will it need assistance from the city?


MICA has a strong operating pro-forma supported by multiple organizations that will offer a wide variety of arts performances, events and classes for community members of all ages. This will diversify MICA’s revenue streams so that risk is reduced by not having to rely on the success of one organization or are limited by a single-use facility.

In addition, MICA has built a $1MM operating reserve into its capital campaign to cover projected needs in excess of fundraising in the start-up years.