Downtown Auburn arts center expected to open in 2023

Initially, the plan had called for the future Auburn Arts and Culture Center to open this August or September.

Obviously, those months have come and gone, and no arts center.

Seems the transformation of the old Auburn Post Office — an 8,000-square-foot, 85-year-old building — into the center has since barked its shins on some pesky supply chain issues.

Two weeks ago, Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation, revised the time estimates he had made this past spring.

“We’re hoping for the first quarter of 2023,” Faber said, citing issues with roofing, a cupola issue and a glass door, among others.

When the project finally gets over those humps and the doors swing open, city leaders predict the center will be a force to bring the community together in celebrating the arts — and at the same time, juice the city’s downtown core.

With the losses to fire of two key downtown buildings in the last five years — the Heritage Apartments in 2017 and the Max House Apartments directly across East Main Street in 2021 — the downtown could use some invigoration right about now.

City officials say the new facility will drastically increase Auburn’s arts programming, and add to arts opportunities available in the South Puget Sound region. It will provide programming that empowers diverse communities by providing the opportunity to unite within the shared language of the arts.

The building is listed on the King County Landmarks Register, the Washington State Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

The original post office was built in 1937 as a Works Project Administration project of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration on land donated by pioneer Levi Ballard, the city’s first postmaster in 1886.

In 1964, when the present post office was built two blocks to the west, King County repurposed the old 27-year-old building as a public health facility. It remained a public health facility until 2009, when King County’s health department moved to newer digs on Auburn Way North.

When King County moved out of the building, it stayed empty for nearly seven years. In August 2016, however, the City of Auburn, eager to turn into a thriving arts and culture center, snapped at the opportunity and bought it from King County.

According to the latest information available on the city’s website, the original funding goal in 2018 was $2.95 million. The estimate for the first phase of work was $1.525 million, with main-floor renovations calling for a lobby and gathering area, gallery spaces, classroom space, a visiting artist studio, a cafe and concession area, a bathroom, an office area and building- wide systems.

The estimate for the second phase of work was $1.425 million, and will include flexible spaces for art-making, rehearsal space and classroom areas. Much of the funding has come from grants.