Broadway Center Vision for the Future

The Pantages Theater celebrates its 100th year in 2018. As that centennial approaches, the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, which operates the theater, is looking ahead to the next 100 years of performing arts programming for Tacoma. They want the next century of the Pantages to start with a bit of a facelift and some structural improvements.

At a meeting of the City Council's Economic Development Committee last week, BCPA Director, David Fischer shared some details of the organizations planned improvements. Much of the work would go to needed safety and accessibility improvements like seismic upgrades, and ADA updates, but other changes are aimed squarely at improving capacity and versatility to keep the historic theater competitive in the coming years and decades. The improvements would come with a price tag in the neighborhood of $35 million, the bulk of which would go to those largely invisible seismic and ADA upgrades, along with deferred maintenance and historic preservation. The remainder would go to improvements to the interior and exterior of the theater, including adjacent open spaces.

In order to cover that hefty price tag, the Broadway Center is seeking $10 million in funding from the City of Tacoma between 2015 and 2020. The remainder of the cost would come from fundraising efforts on the part of the BCPA, looking to both private funders and grant sources. Prospects for the $10 million City ask aren't looking good, at least not in this budget cycle - the project made the City Manager's short list of things not in his proposed 2015-2016 budget. If the Broadway Center is able to scare up the funds to get its capital campaign going, it needs to do it sooner, rather than later. Design work has been moving along, and the BCPA has a pricing commitment from a construction company that the project won't go over that price tag, but only if they break ground by 2016.

General improvements

If they can pull it off, it will be a major investment in the arts for the next several generations of Tacomans. It's been more than a quarter of a century since many of the elements of the Pantages building have been upgraded, and it's due for improvements in access and comfort. Aside from seismic and ADA upgrades, the list of improvements includes restoration of some of the historic elements of the building, and improvements to things like sound buffering from traffic outside the theater.  The Tacoma venue competes with venues in Seattle and elsewhere to attract acts, and many of the upgrades are aimed at improving the Pantages' attractiveness both to those acts, and to audiences.


The seats in the theater are one the most frequent source of complaints, would get replaced, with a new center aisle to improve access. The capacity of the theater venue would also be increased from 1,150 to 1,300 seats. That increase would allow for 150 more seats worth of revenue, and help to entice larger acts to book the venue.

Front Porch

The space directly in front of the front doors to the Pantages as it exists now presents more nuisance and hazard than the theater would like, with patrons crossing the grassy area and slipping in wet weather, and dog owners not cleaning up after their pets. The new plans open up more paved space in front of the theater, adding hardscaping, some bench seating, and a miniature outdoor stage. 

Councilmember Boe referred to this part of the proposed changes as the "Tollefson-ing" of the space, but he meant it as a complement in this smaller context. As a matter of fact, the new design shares a few design elements with an Imagine Tacoma Boe drew for us once upon a time of Tollefson Plaza @ Pantages...

Theater on the Square

The most dramatic change proposed significantly alters the feel and use of the park adjacent to the Pantages. The major elements here would be an opening of the now somewhat cluttered space, and the addition of an outdoor stage and vaulted canopy. Those changes are meant to open up new possibilities for the way the space can be programmed and used by the public. Removal of some of the clutter would add capacity to the open space. The covered area would allow for a number of uses, including a covered portion of the Broadway Farmers' Market, and potentially an extended season, with a smaller market moved fully into the park earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

The space would also be set up to accomodate outdoor concerts, with covered seating for up to 1,800 with a canopy that could be extended to protect attendees from the elements. As Fischer pointed out, Tacoma lacks a good, large outdoor concert space, making it difficult to compete with other venues in the summer months when people want to be outside.

The space would also be set up for food trucks, potentially all week long, depending on demand. Renderings show food trucks parked along the perimeter of the covered area, leaving the center open.

Funding remains the major challenge for these renovations. Although the Broadway Center does not own the adjacent park, Fischer told the Council that Pierce Transit is interested in working with them to either transfer ownership of the park or arrange a long-term lease for its use.

In terms of funding, if the City cannot find the $10 million in the budget (which seems unlikely in this budget cycle), there may be other avenues, but time is a factor, and nothing has been formally discussed yet. At last week's City Council Economic Development Committee meeting, some possibilities came up, among them the idea of an admissions tax or a broader nonprofit filing fee, and the possibility of going to the voters for funding in much the same way that the schools and parks fund their capital improvements. Any of those options would, of course, be in addition to fundraising by the Broadway Center from its patrons, but $35 million is a pretty big ask over a short period of time.

It's a grand vision for the Broadway Center, which has been providing the Tacoma community with quality performing arts programming for many years now, and played a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Tacoma in recent decades. But it's still a big ask, and they'll need some help from their friends...

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I think it would be awesome if they could cap part of Commerce Street and Park Place North with a modern cinema.  Have the doors open onto Theatre on the Square.  Move the proposed stage to the south end of the square.  More people, more entertainment, and attraction of more peripheral businesses that way.

Heck, give the top floor (or two) of Park Place North and air rights over Commence Street to The Broadway Center.  Have them attract a modern cinema to this spot and let them lease or sell the spot to cover the costs of the proposed makeover outlined here.

October 24, 2014 at 10:51 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I’m encouraged by this plan; I’ve thought Tollefson could be used more frequently with a permanent open-air roof. I’d also like to see the Broadway Center continue the kind of programming it did the last two years with a wider range of performers and types of entertainment. This year’s slate is a bit stodgy by comparison. The content matters as much as the context.

October 24, 2014 at 11:40 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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David Fischer

We are excited to present this vision to the citizens of Tacoma. As we approach 100 years of convening community at the corner of 9th and Broadway, we are determined to again lead the renaissance of the Theater District where nearly 270,000 visit annually. Our vision of the future includes safety, comfort and function upgrades to the Pantages Theater, Pierce Transit Park, Theater on the Square and the attached buildings. We are asking that the owner of the buildings, the City of Tacoma, work with us to achieve this vision by allocating less than 30% of the improvement costs into their own asset. That equates to $10 million, not all of which is expected in this next budget cycle, rather between 2015 and 2020. The Broadway Center has been an effective partner in this 31-year long Public-Private revival by generating approximately $30 million of investment into City-owned assets. It’s time to ensure that our community’s most important buildings (as determined by the US Department of Interior) are preserved, safe and ready to serve the next generation.

October 28, 2014 at 9:51 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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