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.