Fund-raising continues for Valhalla Hall renovation

Proponents of a plan to renovate the 104-year-old Valhalla Hall building in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood and re-open it as a community center for young people say they have raised $3.1 million toward the $7.4 million capital project, according to a presentation this week at City Hall.

Allen African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church of Tacoma purchased the building, located at 1216 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, in November 2006. Since then, Allen Renaissance, a non-profit development arm of the church, has actively planned and fund-raised. In 2007, the organization held community workshops and identified project goals. It aims to complete its fund-raising and begin construction this fall. If that happens, construction would be completed next spring and the facility would open in June 2011.

Tacoma City Council allocated $200,000 toward the project in its 2009-2010 biennial budget. The organization also received a $385,000 loan from the Tacoma Community Redevelopment Authority. It also received $1 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, $780,000 from the Washington State Youth Recreational Facilities Program, $740,625 from Washington State’s Community, Trade and Economic Development Department, $144,000 through the City of Tacoma’s design grant program, and $107,000 from the Allen AME Church.

During a meeting of Tacoma City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee March 9, Allen Renaissance Project Manager Alex Hogan said he hoped the building, which will be renamed the Allen Place Performing Arts and Technology Center, would restore activity to this stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

The Valhalla Hall building was constructed in 1906 by Tacoma’s Scandinavian settlers. “They did an absolutely excellent job of making sure it had strong structural wood, and there is heavy timber all over the building,” said Hogan.

Allen Renaissance Executive Director Cheryl Jones said interior renovations have already started. More than 200 balcony seats have been removed and placed in storage so they can be refurbished. “About six months out from completion, balcony seating will be restored and returned,” she said. She also plans to restore old mimeograph equipment that was left behind. The building is not listed on Tacoma’s historic register. But Jones said she consulted with staff from Pacific Lutheran University’s history department on the building’s historic significance.

When completed, 17,900-square-foot Allen Place will be a weekend, daytime, and after school learning center for children who do not have regular access to hi-tech performing arts venues. The center will include a dance studio, recording studio, rehearsal space, and multi-use classrooms. It will serve 7,400 youth between June 2011 and June 2012. Two street-level retail spaces will be available for lease to assist with the organization’s estimated $143,000-$200,000 annual operating expense.

“This was once a bustling district in Tacoma,” said Hogan. “This district was home to K Street, which was a thriving corridor in Tacoma. We have lost a lot of that activity. What makes this project unique is there’s not really an Allen Place Performing Arts and Technology Center in Tacoma. Even if there was, there’s not one in the middle of the Hilltop. The Hilltop needs one.”