Originally published Monday, December 5, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Raising the curtain on Seattle's Downtown Historic Theatre District

A collaboration of arts supporters including nonprofit foundations, theater venues, Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata and Mayor Mike McGinn arrived at the same good idea: the Downtown Historic Theatre District.

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TO be or not to be is an eternal question for cultural institutions suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous economies, changing tastes and competition for patrons.

Designating a Downtown Historic Theatre District for Seattle is a creative way to help the five live-performances venues that anchor the city's central district to plan ahead.

The resolution unanimously passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday, and to be signed by Mayor Mike McGinn on Tuesday, creates a partnership with the city's offices for economic development and arts and cultural affairs to explore new funding and marketing options.

All the theaters — The Moore Theatre, Town Hall, A Contemporary Theatre/Eagles Auditorium, 5th Avenue Theatre, and Paramount Theatre — were built before 1930. In 2010, they drew 75 percent of their audiences from outside the city to more than 1,000 performances.

Economic development takes many forms, and the arts are a presence. During 2010, these historic theaters supported more than 2,000 local arts jobs, while generating $15 million in labor income, according to the council resolution.

Identified strategies include a review of city zoning, financing and development incentives that could benefit the district. For example, how might the transfer of development rights help sustain these venues?

The mayor has made it clear the opportunities focus on cooperation and coordination, not the city cutting checks. Having the City Council screen proposals and put creative ideas for the district in a broader context is also basic.

The generosity of private citizens and nonprofit foundations has nurtured a vibrant downtown cultural community. Investing in new ways to fund and promote their successes is welcome.


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