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Creating a Downtown Historic Theater District

On Dec. 6, nearly 100 arts supporters gathered at the historic 5th Avenue Theatre where Mayor Mike McGinn signed a resolution designating a Downtown Historic Theatre District to support the preservation, promotion and maintenance of Seattle’s downtown historic theaters.

The 5th Avenue Theatre is one of five historic venues that will make up the initial core of the Downtown Historic Theatre District, which also includes The Paramount and Moore Theatres, Town Hall Seattle and ACT – A Contemporary Theatre, housed in the historic Eagles Auditorium. The creation of this district will recognize, protect and build upon the collective contribution of these theaters to our economy and our cultural identity.

In 2010, the historic venues hosted more than 1,000 performances, sustained over 2,000 local jobs, and generated more than $15 million in labor income. The theaters are significant downtown destinations and cultural tourist attractions, with 25 percent of their audiences coming from outside King County.

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved the resolution proposed by Mayor McGinn and the group of historic theaters. To be included in the historic district, venues must have been built prior to 1930, be located downtown, produce and/or present live performances and operate as nonprofits.

The resolution sets the stage for a partnership that will help the city support the theaters, through tools such as access to preservation funding; coordinated marketing efforts; zoning, financing and development incentives; and energy efficiency improvements. In coordination with the Mayor’s Office, the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs will lead a work plan for the Historic Theatre District.

While many historic theaters across the country have closed or are crumbling, many of these theaters have been fueling our economy and captivating audiences since before the Great Depression. These venues employ cast and crew and purchase local goods and services. And unlike most industries, the arts leverage significant spending by their audiences who pump vital revenue into local hotels, restaurants, retail stores and parking garages.