North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

June 27, 2002

Daly deal dead;
a new theater group next?

Professional Building
almost ready for county

You could drink it

Arcata singer slain

Blue Lake Casino,
Wild Card opens

"Tailgate" shut down

Groundfish fishing curtailed

Round-about art

Daly deal dead; a new theater group next?

Escrow is scheduled to close July 15 on the sale of the old Daly Department store in Eureka a complex that includes the historic Sweasey Theater to developer Dan Ollivier, but all parties are now saying that deal is dead.

Instead, the current owner, the Humboldt State University Foundation, has reached a new, tentative agreement with a nonprofit theater group, Plays-in-Progress, according to its executive director.

Ollivier initially wanted to purchase the property to create parking for his rehabilitated Gross Building on the corner of 5th and F streets. As reported in last week's Journal, the developer recently leased the ground floor of that building to Plaza Design for a third store. After Plaza Design's owner Julie Fulkerson made it clear that street parking in downtown Eureka will be adequate for her new store at this time, Ollivier's interest in the Daly project evaporated.

Plays In Progress, a theater company also known as PIP, was part of Ollivier's original plan. When Ollivier lost interest, the group's executive director Susan Bigelow-Marsh stepped in.

The theater group "is the only nonprofit in a position to do this. We are buying it directly," she told the Journal last week.

Asked how a perpetually cash-strapped nonprofit could afford the property, Bigelow-Marsh said fund-raising has begun toward the purchase price of $470,000 the amount still owed by the HSU Foundation to the Eureka Redevelopment Agency, which holds the note.

She also said the theater group may join with other nonprofits, such as the Redwood Arts Association, which is also looking for a permanent home. The association has been raising funds for years and has $80,000 to $100,000 saved toward purchasing gallery space.

The purchase price on the Daly complex, however, is only the beginning. It is estimated that roof replacement and facade work alone on one of its three buildings, the Sweasey Theater, will cost $200,000 and additional funds would have to be raised to create a 150-seat "black box" theater inside.

Those figures are a far cry from the state-of-art performing arts center that HSU had in mind when its foundation purchased the building in 1998. HSU estimated that it needed $8 million for the project and $2 million for an endowment fund for ongoing maintenance. Two years ago when no large donors were found, HSU dropped the plan and pursued a sale.

Eureka City Manager David Tyson said developers have told him $4 million to $6 million is a more realistic figure "for a theater that would make the community very proud."

"Certainly what HSU had been proposing was a very high caliber theater, very top end," he added.

If the sale occurs for $470,000, both the city and HSU will share losses.

HSU spent $30,000 the first two years of ownership for engineering studies, hazardous cleanup, seismic assessment and an architectural plan drawn up by one of the most expensive firms in the country Hardy, Holzman and Pfeiffer of Los Angeles. It specializes in music performance venues. In addition, the foundation made about $45,000 in principle-only payments.

For Eureka's part, the biggest expense is lost interest. The city gained a public parking lot in the original transaction for $185,000, but the balance of the loan to the HSU Foundation $515,000 has been earning the city no interest, nor was it available for other public projects.

"We're anxious to get going on Phase II of the Boardwalk, for instance," Tyson said. "That's the fishermen's work area down on the waterfront. In fact we're going to the state Coastal Commission Thursday asking for $1.5 million for that project."

Tyson said whoever the eventual buyer of the Daly building is, the city is ready to help in traditional ways such as providing bridge financing. The City Council and the city's Redevelopment Advisory Board have made it clear, however, they do not want to own a theater.

-- reported by Judy Hodgson

Professional Building almost ready for county

The renovation of the Professional Building at 5th and F streets in downtown Eureka is moving toward completion. A crew has finished a major portion of the required earthquake reinforcement on the brick building. The upper floors are stripped clean, ready to be turned into office space.

"From the second floor to the fifth we are substantially complete and ready for the tenants," said developer Kurt Kramer, who owns the building and the complex across the street that includes the derelict Hefe's nightclub and other dilapidated buildings.

Architectural rendering of Professional Building and proposed parking lot in downtown EurekaSecuring a major tenant for the Professional building seals the fate of that complex, which Kramer plans to demolish to make way for a 52-space parking lot. The plan has met with some resistance from the historic preservation community. (see Sept. 13, 2001 cover story, "Historic or Just Old?")

[At left, architectural rendering of Professional Building and proposed parking lot, by Jerry Lee Wallace]

According to Kramer, demolition is underway. But since it's a salvage operation, recycling all reusable wood, it's working from the inside outward, so the process is fairly invisible.

If all goes according to plan, Humboldt County's Department of Health and Human Services will occupy 25,000 square feet of the Professional Building's 36,000 square feet of space.

"The lease has been written," said Kramer, "but we have to fill in the blanks and get approval (from the Board of Supervisors). Once we get approval we'll meet and do the design work."

Kramer's bid was chosen from a field of six following a request for proposals to provide administrative office space.

According to Director of Health and Human Services Phil Crandall, the move is another step in a process begun two years ago aimed at consolidating administration of the county's Public Health Department, the Mental Health Department and Social Services.

Pending the supervisors' final approval, the administrative offices for all three branches will be under one roof for the first time, along with the department's management information services, financial services and employee services.

"It will be a more efficient use of resources," said Crandall, emphasizing that the lease agreement with Kramer is "in negotiation," and adding "there's still a lot of ground to cover." Nonetheless, there appears to be little doubt that the details will be hammered out.

Moving administration to the Professional Building is not at all related to the county's failed plan to consolidate a number of family services in the old Food Mart building in Henderson Center, according to Crandall. The county still plans to gather programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides free food to low-income people, and sections of the mental health and public health departments that serve children together under one roof. Crandall said the county is preparing a new request for proposals that will lead to consolidation of those services in one place.

You could drink it

A worker in Cher-ae Heights Casino wastewater treatment plantThe Cher-ae Heights Casino will soon recycle most of its own wastewater and flush it back down the toilet after a new $800,000 sewage treatment plant -- the only one in Trinidad -- goes fully on-line this week.

The plant uses a new filtration technology that pulls the water through walls made of thousands of spaghetti-like strands that filter out particles as small as .02 microns -- legally, drinking water.

There is always a chance the membranes might be compromised, so the water is treated with ultraviolet radiation and additional layers of carbon filtration. After that, it is run back into the casino as toilet flush water. The treated water will not be used for drinking or bathing.

The plant was built, according to Greg Nesty, Cher-ae Heights' environmental coordinator, because Trinidad has historical water shortage problems that the casino did not want to aggravate. The monetary savings in water "didn't really factor in."

The plant was designed and built by a Canadian corporation, Zenon Environmental, and is the first of its kind in Northern California.

Arcata singer slain

Humboldt County's music community suffered a loss Friday when Lesa Ann Thomas, known to her friends as Lesa Katani, was shot and killed at her home in Arcata. Katani was apparently the victim in a murder/suicide.

Her suspected killer, Donald Allen Peeler Jr., died at 2 a.m. Saturday at Mad River Hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Katani was lead singer for a band called Bliss Cookie that played its final gig at the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival two weekends ago. Bliss Cookie was also slated for appearances at Blues by the Bay in July and at the Buddy Brown Blues Festival in August.

Bliss Cookie saxophone player Eldin Green is seeking photos and sound recordings of Katani for a tribute Web page. He asks anyone who cares to share their memories to contact him.

Blue Lake Casino, Wild Card opens

The action will be hot in the sleepy little hamlet of Blue Lake this weekend.

As gamblers get their first chance to experience the new Indian gaming facility, others can see the premiere of a satirical comedy about the impact of the casino, part of Dell'Arte's Mad River Festival.

On Thursday, June 27, the Blue Lake Casino opens for what casino officials are calling a "soft opening." With work on the Blue Lake Rancheria's $30 million facility completed weeks ahead of schedule, the casino's slot machines are all lit up, the three restaurants and bar are ready to go, and the gaming tables are waiting for players. The only thing that won't be available is the bingo parlor, and that will be ready in time for the scheduled grand opening in early August.

On Friday, June 28, the Dell'Arte Co. premieres Wild Card, a new production that epitomizes the company's "theatre of place" tradition. Set in Blue Lake 10 years in the future during the production of a radio show, the play takes a satirical look at the possible impact of the casino and pokes fun at everything from the Blue Lake City Council to the Dell'Arte School itself.

The play's author, Dell'Arte Artistic Director Michael Fields, describes Wild Card as "Dell'Arte meets `Prairie Home Companion' meets `Beyond the Fringe' with live music, songs and sound effects."

The music and many of the songs will be provided by the Joyce Hough Band, portraying "the Little Sally Mulligan Band." Hough, who has a background in theater, also has a speaking role as Little Sally Mulligan.

The production is part of "The Dentalium Project," one of 32 projects across the U.S. supported by the Ford Foundation's Animating Democracy Initiative. Funding came in the form of an $80,000 grant.

Another component of the project is a series of forums examining the economic, political and cultural conflicts arising from the casino project. These are being coordinated by the Cascadia Leadership Center, a conflict management group headed by former 3rd District Supervisor Julie Fulkerson.

A third component is a video documentary spearheaded by Jan Kraepelien of KEET-TV following several residents of Blue Lake from the onset of casino construction to the operation of the gambling facility.

Performances of "Wild Card" take place at the Dell'Arte/Rooney Amphitheatre in Blue Lake on Fridays through Sundays, June 28, 29 and 30, July 5, 6 and 7 at 8 p.m. The performance on Sunday, June 30, will be broadcast live over KHSU-FM. For reservations or more information, call the Mad River Festival box office at 668-5663, ext. 20.

Groundfish fishing curtailed

The federal government placed severe limitations on the groundfish fisheries last Thursday, hoping to preserve endangered Pacific stocks.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to do away with all groundfish fishing between the depths of 600 and 1,500 feet north of Cape Mendocino.

The vote affects fishing for the rest of the year, and even harsher restrictions are expected for next year.

"Tailgate" shut down

The Saturday night tailgate party Rodeo weekend in Fortuna, or simply "tailgate," as it was affectionately called, will be discontinued this year due to concerns about underage drinking.

The Fortuna City Council voted to sign an agreement with Fortuna Rodeo Association that would ban all drinking in the parking lot in front of the Fireman's Pavilion in Rohner Park Saturday night.

Fliers will be handed out that day warning the public of the change in plans.

Round-about art

Edge of tiled round-about, with vehicle in backgroundThe round-about at 12th and I streets in Arcata, newly decorated with mosaic tiles. It was spruced up by artist Laurel Skye and friends with the city paying for the tiles through Arcata's adopt-a-park program.

"We've had (the program) in place for several years and we're just trying to renew some interest in it," said Dan Diemer, Arcata's park superindendent. Others interested in adopting a round-about may call the office of parks and public works at 822-5957.



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