In Our View: Mixed News Downtown

Theater group closes shop;new uses emerge for Vancouver Barracks

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The century-and-a-half evolution of downtown Vancouver continues, and last week’s headlines brought both disappointment and excitement.We were sad to learn that Slocum House Theatre will close its productions at the historic property on the southwest corner of Esther Short Park. The theater group announced Tuesday that it could not “remain economically viable” and will try to re-emerge later as an option for affordable local theater. But we were excited when the National Park Service announced four possible uses for the east and south areas of Vancouver Barracks. Just as Officers Row has become a beautiful and popular walk or drive, with a collection of vibrant public- and private-sector offices, the adjacent four barracks buildings that became available last year offer great hope for boosting the revitalization of the general downtown area.

Here are additional observations about both of these recent developments:

• The Slocum House Theatre group has been one of the premier venues for fine community theater for 46 years. Your last chance to see the nonprofit in action will be the comedy “Greater Tuna,” running from Feb. 17 to March 11. Admission will be free with donations directed to Share House.

Although city officials recently notified the group that rent would increase from $635 per month to $2,500, and negotiations were under way to accommodate a rent increase, theater officials say that was not the cause of the demise. Slocum House Theatre board President Jim Fully said that “even if there had been no change in our arrangement with the city, we were working with an unsustainable business model.”

That’s disheartening for the many local residents who have enjoyed Slocum House productions over the years, and for the hundreds of thespians who graced the stage. We wish the theater company well in its efforts to reorganize and create a more sustainable business plan at another site. We also hope city officials find other tenants for the historic house, in addition to the Vancouver Farmers Market (which rents a space there) so that the quaint and cozy building can be kept fully functional.

• The four alternatives being considered for the East and South Barracks are: (A) no action, extension of current management practices; (B) an urban district in a historic setting, like Officers Row, with retail, office and residential use; (C) a preferred alternative that would include a historic campus for public service, plus offices for public agencies including the headquarters of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site; (D) an educational campus, featuring community, nonprofit and history-related uses.

We see little purpose in the standard and obligatory (A), but it’s too soon to choose among the other three ideas. Two public meetings are scheduled: noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at the Red Cross Building at Barnes Street and Hatheway Road (site tour at 12:30 p.m.); and 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at the same site (tour at 5:30 p.m.).

Vancouver Barracks has a rich history, starting 162 years ago as the first permanent U.S. Army post in the Pacific Northwest. Ulysses S. Grant, Phil Sheridan and George Marshall are among the noteworthy military figures who served at the post. We have full confidence that the National Park Service and the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site will allow ample public input and craft a diverse and productive new use for the property.