Arts & Entertainment Community Government

Cultural arts district with taxing authority proposed for Gig Harbor area

Posted on May 24th, 2022 By:

Stephanie Lile has a proposal to boost funding for Gig Harbor’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations.

Lile, executive director of the Harbor History Museum, wants to create a Peninsula Cultural Arts District. The district would correspond to the boundaries of the Peninsula School District, encompassing Gig Harbor, Fox Island and the Key Peninsula.

A map from Harbor History Museum executive director Stephanie Lile's presentation shows the boundaries of a proposed cultural arts district. The boundaries would mirror those of the Peninsula School District.

A map from Harbor History Museum executive director Stephanie Lile’s presentation shows the boundaries of a proposed cultural arts district. The boundaries would mirror those of the Peninsula School District.

If voters approve the plan, the district would have the authority to assess a property tax of 10 cents per $1,000 of valuation. That would increase overall property taxes to $10.88 per $1,000 of assessed value in unincorporated Pierce County and $9.82 per $1,000 for city of Gig Harbor residents.

Lile presented her plan to the city council on Monday.

How it works

Washington state law (RCW 67.38) allows formation of Cultural Arts, Stadium and Convention Districts funded by property taxes. Organizations that support cultural tourism can use the funds for operations and capital improvements.

The first step toward creating the district is asking the Pierce County Council to send a proposal to voters. Lile hopes to get such a proposal on the February 2023 ballot.

The district would raise an estimated $1.6 million annually if voters approve the plan. Funds would be distributed among qualifying arts and cultural organizations starting in 2025.

Harbor History Museum Executive Director Stephanie Lile at the museum in March.

Museums and historical societies, operators of historic sites and nonprofits that provide cultural tourism activities would share the funds.

In the area proposed by Lile, qualifying organizations would include Harbor History Museum, Fox Island Historical Society, Key Peninsula Historical Society, Harbor WildWatch, Gig Harbor BoatShop, Skansie Netshed Foundation, Peninsula Art League, Hands on Art, Music for All and the Gig Harbor Film Festival.

A first in Washington state

It would be the state’s first cultural arts district, Lile said. Previously, local jurisdictions have applied as stadium or convention districts, not cultural arts districts.

“For cultural organizations, it’s a game-changer,” Lile said.

Similar districts, such as Tacoma Creates and a newly-created district in Olympia, are classified as cultural access districts. A different state law governs them and they are funded by sales taxes.

A nine-member board would govern the district. It would include the mayor or council members of cities in the district; the county executive and members of the county council; and ex-officio, nonvoting members elected or appointed by the board.

What’s next

Creation of the cultural arts district would require a 60 percent “yes” vote. The election would need to draw votes from at least 40 percent of the voters in the last election. That adds up to approximately 11,526 “yes” votes.

The next steps: The county council can send the measure to voters, or backers must launch a petition drive. The latter would require verified signatures of at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the proposed district, or about 5,341 signatures.

The council took no action on the informational presentation.

Other business

  • The council unanimously approved a resolution declaring June as Pride Month in Gig Harbor.
  • The council approved a $63,484 contract with 3J Consulting for on-call private development review assistance. Public Works Director Jeff Langhelm said the help is needed due to vacancies in the city’s engineering staff.
  • Nine Gig Harbor residents asked the council to ban fireworks. Several mentioned that it exacerbates PTSD symptoms; others cited potential fire danger caused by fireworks.
  • Several other people commented on the need for additional public input about the Gig Harbor Sports Complex project.
  • Interim City Administrator Katrina Knutson announced that she has appointed HR analyst Shannon Costanti as interim HR director. Knutson also said senior planner Carl de Simas and building official and fire marshal Paul Rice will take on some of Knutson’s community development director duties while she is serving as interim city administrator.