Bag&Baggage will get $775,000 loan at 1 percent interest

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Scott Palmer, artistic director for Bag&Baggage Productions, stands in the empty concrete box that will be transformed into an intimate theater space over the next two years.  The city of Hillsboro has taken a dramatic step forward in its support for the performing arts. On Tuesday, July 7, the Hillsboro City Council voted 5-0 to approve a $775,000 loan to Bag&Baggage Productions to allow the theater company to purchase the old Wells Fargo Bank building and turn it into a 150-seat theater.

City officials see the deal as positive for Hillsboro — and for the downtown business district in particular — as well as for Bag&Baggage.

“This plan supports two economic development strategies for the city,” said Mark Clemons, director of the city’s Economic Development Department. “It retains and expands a local company, and the project builds on momentum to revitalize the downtown through support for arts and culture.”

Bag&Baggage will pay back the loan over 20 years at 1 percent interest, with the first payment not due until 2017.

“We strongly believe ensuring Bag&Baggage’s long-term stability in downtown is a win for our community,” Clemons said. “Keeping a professional theater group in Hillsboro enhances the quality of life and could be a draw for new families. Events and performances activate the downtown and supports and grows business in the downtown area.”

Scott Palmer, artistic director of Bag&Baggage, said purchase of the bank building, which is located at 350 E. Main St., represents a transcendent step for the theater company.

“We started as a resident theater company eight years ago, and it’s truly humbling to think how far we’ve come — from a budget of less than $12,000 in that first season to a budget of half a million dollars this season. We’ve gone from a cheeky ‘we think we can’ little company to one of the most important cultural institutions in the region,” Palmer said.

But Palmer believes the “best is yet to come” for Bag&Baggage.

“With the visionary support reflected by this proposal, we will be able to purchase a new, permanent home,” Palmer said. “The bank building is an ideal space for us. It is intimate, flexible, modern and edgy. But most important, it will be ours. COURTESY ILLUSTRATION - This artistic rendering of the proposed 150-seat theater space will serve as a basis for future final designs.

“Our new home will enable us to improve and deepen our work and allow us to experiment with new theater technologies.”

Currently, Bag&Baggage rents space at the Venetian Theatre & Bistro to perform its plays. The Venetian, a 380-seat facility at 253 E. Main St., sits just a block down from the Wells Fargo building.

Palmer said the theater is working to raise $1.4 million to pay for modifications to transform the former bank into a modern theater facility that will include administrative offices, a concessions area and bar, storage areas, dressing rooms and meeting space. Tuesday evening, Palmer announced that Bag&Baggage has already secured pledges of $331,000 — nearly 25 percent of the total required.

With the loan from the city now secured, Palmer said he intends to accelerate a highly focused capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to create the theater.

Mayor Jerry Willey praised Bag&Baggage for the impressive initial fundraising success.

“Congratulations on the $330,000 — that’s an excellent start,” Willey said.

Despite the mostly enthusiastic reviews of the loan agreement between the city and Bag&Baggage, not everyone thought it was a good idea.

Kyle Markley, a Hillsboro resident who ran as a Libertarian candidate for the state representative seat in House District 30 last fall, ripped the loan proposal.

“You are going to use taxpayer money, which is obtained by force, to provide a subsidy used by only a small percent of our population for their recreation — and you do this in a manner that competes with private business,” he said. “This sort of subsidy is deeply unpopular. This is the hand of government picking winners — a theater company and its patrons, and losers — banks and taxpayers.”

Markley urged the council members to reconsider, and proposed letting taxpayers decide how much of their tax dollars should go to support the performing arts.

“It should be their money, their choice — not yours,” Markley said.

Markley also questioned how the city of Hillsboro could come up with $775,000 to help one company when there are so many other needs to be met.

“If Hillsboro has $775,000 to lend for such a questionable purpose, then I submit the city has too much money and should cut taxes,” Markley said.

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