City receives money to rebuild Auburn Avenue Theater

The city of Auburn will receive $1.54 million from the state Department of Commerce for rebuilding the Auburn Avenue Theater.

Dana Hinman, director of administration for the city of Auburn, announced the award at Monday evening’s Auburn City Council study session as she chalked up the city’s successes and not-so successes in the recently completed legislative session.

“Our staff and community did an amazing job ensuring our delegation knew how important this is for Auburn. Rep. Stearns and Rep. Robertson were our champions on this and we are extremely grateful,” Hinman said.

“We are thrilled to have received this large level of funding from the State of Washington Department of Commerce to assist in the rebuild/replacement of the Auburn Avenue Theater,” Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation Director Daryl Faber informed the Auburn Reporter on Monday afternoon.

The Max House Apartment fire in July 2021 destroyed the building and several businesses. Subsequent demolition work on the burned building in the closing days of 2021 damaged the theater, and the city condemned it in January 2022.

As part of the city’s campaign for funding, Faber wrote the following letter to lawmakers. In it, he noted broad public support for rebuilding the theater, which, with more than 14,000 visitors every year, he said, has been a vital economic driver of downtown Auburn for decades.

“The venue is critical to the arts and culture scene on a local and regional level and greatly contributes to Auburn’s downtown vitality through economic, educational, and civic benefits of the performing arts. The theater also provides opportunities for the creative sector — musicians, dancers, actors, directors, choreographers, set designers, costumers, stage mangers, sound and light technicians — critical to the regional economy,” Faber wrote.

Included in Faber’s message were letters of support for the rebuild from creative sector workers, theater patrons, and organizations such as the Auburn School District, Green River College and the Auburn Symphony Orchestra. All of these, he said, “understand the community and regional impact of this venue.”

“The state funding, at $1,545,000, is critical to allow the City of Auburn to afford to rebuild the Auburn Avenue Theater in its current location to return a place to house arts and entertainment. The current city budget will not cover the overall project costs for this devastating community loss. The overall project cost is anticipated to be $6,000,000 with funding needed to support design development, bid documents and construction of a new theater.”

Faber’s comment to the Auburn Reporter on Monday added that “big question” has yet to be answered: Does the city mean only to rebuild the theater, or will it be part of a much larger theater project that makes use of the former Max House property, which the city now owns?

“Staff and council are still determining ‘next steps’ as it relates to funding a theater project that will help revitalize our downtown,” Faber said. “Determination of next steps should be made in the next two months as an outside consultant is providing cost estimate(s) for both a new or reconstructed theater. The state funding can be used for either a rebuild or new construction. In addition, the City of Auburn has also received $100,000 from King County to provide funding for the preliminary design study or other costs associated with the theater project.”