The Pike/Pine corridor’s ongoing development means musical chairs for tenants. As is the Seattle way, people don’t take the real estate markets machinations personally, but there it is. Shop space that rented for hundreds of dollars can go for thousands, which means that the street ecology is shifting to suit those revenue-per-square-foot demands. The good news is, the arts are displaying plenty of adaptability.
In 2010, the year rent was too damn high, both Balagan Theatre and the Martin-Zambito Gallery said goodbye to Capitol Hill. Balagan was founded on Capitol Hill in 2006, but is now heading into a “gypsy” season, having left their home below Boom Noodle, just off 12th Avenue on Pike. Martin-Zambito had been at 721 E. Pike since 1989, when the Pike/Pine area was in such a slump that they received nine months free rent on moving in. Rent back then was $475 per month for the storefront.
“When the building was sold, the rent naturally increased,” said David Martin, and when their lease ended, they were faced with a choice to renew or not.
Their gallery, with its focus on American artists, particularly Northwest artists, had developed its own clientele over the years, and walk-in traffic was less a factor in sales. With Martin taking on more writing work, working on catalogues for museums, he was in need of a gallery that had office space, and serendipitously, a conversation with Historic Seattle led to them inviting Martin-Zambito to take up space in their building on Minor.
It’s a loss for looky-loos because you’re now encouraged to view the art by appointment. But the rent is “way less,” laughed Martin. On the bright side, he mentioned that the new tenant, the Other Coast Café, makes “great sandwiches,” so Martin and Zambito still find themselves visiting their old Pike Street haunt about once per week.
Balagan Theatre founder Jake Groshong replied via email that “We’d outgrown our space. We felt we had accomplished what we had set out to do and wouldn’t be able to grow in the ways we wanted to as an organization if we stayed where we were.” But that said, he couldn’t give the owners high marks for their support of an indie theatre, after they twice filed noise complaints with the police. (Landlord-tenant tensions are a Pike/Pine staple.)
To give you a sense of what Pike/Pine development has done to the market, Balagan’s basement rental space–echoing with the sound of Boom Noodle diner chairs scraping on their low ceiling, impossible to keep cool with bright lights and packed crowds, short on storage–was going for almost $5,000 per month. “All of our profits going toward our rent,” wrote Groshong, “but we were consistently selling out shows and turning away would-be patrons.”
“We’re making this our gypsy season,” continued Groshong. “We’re doing Dr. Horrible at ACT [Jan. 28 to Feb. 12], and then we’ll be doing a piece in a warehouse.” At the warehouse, they’re producing three shows, and showing them in repertory over one month. After that comes a museum piece, followed by a summer show.
Yet relocation is not at all a one-way street. SCCC’s Erickson Theater Off Broadway (just around the corner from the Egyptian) is currently the home of the acclaimed Strawberry Theatre Workshop, and is about to welcome New Century Theatre Company as well, making it ground zero for award-winning theatre you can walk to.
“This will be our first venture away from ACT and it’ll be a great litmus test to see if our audience adjusts easily to following us there,” responded NCTC’s Paul Morgan Stetler. “So, we’ll see how it goes…we’re super excited about being at the Erickson. It’s a fantastic little space and our next show, O LOVELY GLOWWORM by Glen Berger, is going to be a perfect fit for that venue.” Directed by Roger Bennington, the show runs April 13 to May 14, and features MJ Sieber, Peter Dylan O’Connor, Darragh Kennan, and Jennifer Lee Taylor.
“Seattle has a real shortage of decent theatre spaces,” noted Stetler, adding that the Erickson was able to give them a “great rate,” and that while it’s early days, they wouldn’t be unhappy to have found a more long-term home. Capitol Hill’s rents have exacerbated the problem; it’s noteworthy that a community college owns the Erickson, and so is not driven to seek top dollar from tenants.
Another arrival drawn to Capitol Hill’s arts-density is the offbeat Canoe Social Club. Previously housed in the upstairs of the ID’s Theatre Off Jackson, the social club’s leadership, Jennifer Zeyl and Matt Starritt, decided to go where the social is. Now they’re at 417 E. Loretta Place, by the Biltmore. The membership is a who’s who of Seattle’s art scene, some of the “busiest people in Seattle.” They are currently in a membership drive, so if you join, you too can experience “Whittlin’ Wednesdays” or “Secret Cinema.”