A much-needed arts enclave arises in downtown Auburn | Whale’s Tales

For some endeavors, it’s hard to find a downside.

Among such endeavors has to be the transformation of the old Auburn Post Office into Auburn’s Arts and Culture Center.

After all, what can one say bad about taking an 8,000-square-foot, 85-year-old building that no one wanted to lose to time and indifference, remodeling it, and giving it a new purpose?

And a very fine purpose at that.

City leaders envision the center as a force to bring the community together to celebrate the arts, and at the same time, seriously juice the city’s downtown core.

Because, let’s be honest, 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 serious juicing right about now.

Can’t argue with that, either.

This week, Daryl Faber, director of Auburn Parks, Arts and Recreation, revised estimates he had made this past spring that had it opening in August or September 2022.

“It will be closer to October,” Faber said recently. “There are a whole bunch of supply-chain issues, which is typical of construction right now. It’s been a roofing issue, which ties into a cupola issue, which ties into a glass door issue.”

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.

Given the city’s pending purchase of the former Max House Apartments lot, and the possibility of the city building a theater complex on the now vacant lot and replacing the current Auburn Avenue Theatre with an up -to-date one just across the alley from the Arts and Culture Center, there is the potential for a heck of an arts enclave to rise in the core of downtown Auburn. And that would be a serious shot of juice to a fairly sleepy downtown.

In all that, I for one can see only the good. Hats off to the city of Auburn, and godspeed.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.

Robert Whale can be reached at rwhale@soundpublishing.com.