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CAST, Columbia Gallery must seek new space

Two long-standing Hood River cultural organizations are facing an uncertain future. The Columbia Art Gallery’s lease at 207 Second St. ran out earlier this month and the city, which owns the property, has notified the gallery’s board that the lease will not be renewed.

The CAST Performing Arts Center is facing similar homelessness at the end of the year. The building on 4th St., between Oak and Cascade, where CAST has been for 10 years was recently sold. The new owner, Mark Montanez, who owns The Crazy Pepper Cantina located in the same building, has given the community theatre until Dec. 31 to relocate.

CAST had enjoyed a “sweetheart” deal in the building, paying only minimal rent, dating to when the late Butch Ogawa owned it. Montanez has told the CAST board that he must try to rent the space at fair market value in order to cover his costs. CAST, a non-profit organization, can’t afford the estimated $33,000 in annual rent that the space would likely go for, said board member Tom Penchoen.

The gallery has enjoyed a similar reduced rent situation from the city for the past 15 years. During that time, the gallery has spent an estimated $75,000 on remodeling and upgrades to the space, according to board member Bill Sturman.

The gallery has informally been given six months to vacate the space, Sturman said. According to him , City Manager Lynn Guenther told the gallery board that the space was going to be used to expand the police station, which is housed upstairs. Guenther was unavailable for comment.

The two cultural organizations banded together last week when they learned that the American Legion Hall building at 3rd and Cascade streets was going to be sold. Representatives from the board of directors of both organizations put together a purchase proposal and presented it, along with earnest money, to the American Legion board last week. If the Legion accepts their offer, the two entities envision creating a community cultural center in the building, which could house the gallery and the theatre as well as provide space for classes, workshops and readings.

“The appeal of that building to us is that it’s the only one to meet both our needs,” Sturman said. Gallery board members feel the gallery needs to be located on street level and within the downtown core. For CAST, the Legion building represents one of the only downtown buildings with ceilings high enough to accommodate a theatre, according to Penchoen.

The gallery has an endowment fund that could be used to help purchase the building.

“The funds are available” for a serious offer, Sturman said. Donations and grants would be necessary to offset costs, especially since extensive renovation of the building would be required.

The Legion board plans to make a decision on the proposal in the next couple of weeks, and is also entertaining proposals from real estate agents interested in listing the building.

“We need to have a Plan B,” Penchoen said. “But we have the same hope as the gallery that people in the community will say, ‘Yes, it’s time for us to have a home for these two institutions.’”

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