Tourists have spent more time and money in King County than expected in recent years. Now officials say those tourist taxes will soon translate to upgrades for county arts facilities.
Until last January, hotel and motel taxes in King County went to pay the debt for the demolished Kingdome, right down to repairs for fallen ceiling tiles.
Since that debt was retired a bit earlier than anticipated, King County will now use remaining tax revenue this year to finance $20 million in arts grants. Local arts groups can apply for funding to improve their facilities.
Arts supporters crowded Thursday’s launch of the grant-making process. One was Maryanne Tagney, president of Seattle Opera's board. She said arts groups have been anticipating this funding opportunity and many just have to hit “send" on their applications.
Seattle Opera is seeking money to help build a new office and scene shop where the Mercer Arena now stands.
The opera’s staff is spread out in numerous locations: Its scene shop is in Renton, she said, while its South Lake Union offices rely on “rickety” staircases and are not wheelchair-accessible.
Grant applications are due to the county by Sept. 9, and the funding will be divided among many applicants. Smaller projects with budgets under $1 million can receive up to 25 percent of their total project budget. Larger projects will be eligible for a smaller proportion of the total cost.
Tagney said it’s clear there will be lots of competition for the money. “For people who are not ready to go it’s going to be a bit of a scramble to meet that September deadline,” she said, “but it’s great that there’s this much enthusiasm and activity and so much going on.”
Jim Kelly is executive director of the arts agency 4Culture, which oversees the process. He said the $20 million will help make arts facilities more accessible to all patrons, for example, the hard of hearing. Kelly said a system called a “hearing loop” costs about $25,000 to install and he expects to see many applications to fund them.
“You can put it in a public venue and a lot of hearing aids today – about 70 percent – have a button you can turn on that gets a different radio frequency,” allowing those audience members to hear perfectly, he said.
Moya Vazquez is president of the board of Town Hall Seattle. She said Town Hall will apply for funds as part of a capital campaign to make numerous improvements to the century-old structure on First Hill, including the HVAC, earthquake sturdiness, better sound-proofing and some restrooms.
"I think there’s like three women’s stalls or something like that,” Vazquez said.
The grant awards will be announced next fall.