Ends long contract with Auditorium Association
The Town of Winthrop and the Winthrop Auditorium Association, the nonprofit that operated the Winthrop Barn for almost 30 years, have terminated their contract agreement.
The Barn’s oversight and operations will, effective July 1, now be handled by the town.
The town and Auditorium Association have been in discussions for months about ending the longtime agreement, particularly since COVID restrictions have shut down the Barn’s business for more than a year.
At its meeting last week, the Town Council approved a resolution terminating the operating arrangement. Mayor Sally Ranzau called it a “mutual agreement” to end the partnership.
As COVID restrictions begin to ease, the town will begin taking requests to rent the facility for a variety of events, Town Clerk Michelle Gaines said in an interview after the council meeting.
The town will create a new position to manage the Barn’s business, Gaines said. Until then, requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For information, call Town Hall at 996-2320.
Gaines said she anticipates a “soft opening” of the Barn this summer, depending on whatever state guidelines remain in place after most
restrictions are lifted at the end of this month. “We’ve been keeping a list of people who are interested,” she said.
The town’s public works staff will take care of routine maintenance at the Barn, Gaines said.
A 25-year agreement between the town and the association expired in May 2017. In September 2018, the town and the Auditorium Association reached a contract agreement after months of negotiating over what the town would provide towards the facility’s operation. Since then, the Auditorium Association has continue to oversee the Barn’s operation under a renewable one-year contract.
The Barn took a huge hit because of the COVID restrictions. The facility is spacious, convenient and adaptable, which has made it a popular site for a variety of events. But when the coronavirus restrictions were imposed, all the concerts, meetings, weddings and other gatherings that would have filled the Barn had to cancel their bookings. The last big event at the Barn was Room One’s “Big Event” fundraiser at the end of February 2020.
Other major happenings including the Winthrop Kiwanis Bite of the Methow, the annual gathering of the Zumiez sales staff, Winthrop ’49er Days and the Winthrop Vintage Wheels Show all canceled their Barn dates. The annual Christmas at the End of the Road appearance of Santa Claus was also canceled, as was the holiday shopping bazaar. Other Barn regulars such as the monthly “First Tuesday” meeting of the Methow Conservancy and monthly meetings of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce went virtual.
In March of this year, the Auditorium Association asked that the town take over management of the barn. In April, the council voted to begin the process of terminating the contract, with the understanding that the city and Auditorium Association would continue to work together in some form in the future.
After the existing contract is terminated, the town plans to negotiate a new agreement of some kind with the association.
“The whole point of this is not to disband the Winthrop Auditorium Association,” Ranzau said.
In an interview last week, Winthrop Auditorium Association President Rick Northcott said “we wore out the model [for operating the barn], in my opinion … it will be a better situation for them [the town] to manage it.”
“How fast it will come back is hard to say,” Northcott added. He said the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival, of which he is also president, may schedule some live music at the Barn this fall.
Northcott noted that the Auditorium Association is a 501(c)4 nonprofit, rather than a 501(c)3, meaning, among other things, that donations are not tax deductible. As an independent organization operating as a 501(c)3, Northcott said, the association could use its fundraising activities to benefit the Barn.
Northcott said the association will retain a $75,000 donation from the late Red McComb that it plans to use for Barn upgrades.
Ranzau estimated earlier this year that hiring a less-than-full-time barn manager would cost $36,000 a year in salary. Northcott said the auditorium association had a part-time employee that it paid $900 a month to coordinate the barn’s activities.
In other business, the council:
• Appointed Bill McAdow as mayor pro tem to fill in when Ranzau is out of town.
• Approved a contract with BHC Consultants to provide the town with building plan review services for the new Okanogan County Fire District 6 fire station that is being built on Horizon Flats Road, for a contract amount of $10,508. The review will ensure that the project is in compliance with applicable building codes. The cost will be covered by the fire district, Public Works Director Jeff Sarvis said.
BHC could also be called on to review other large projects within the town.
• Agreed to a recommendation by Sarvis that a new “lead worker” position be created in the Public Works Department. The new position would be created to fill a current vacancy on the Public Works staff, Sarvis said. He said the new position would be responsible for coordinating the department’s work “and getting things done more efficiently,” and would free him up for other administrative and oversight duties. The salary for the redefined position would be about $10,000 more than currently budgeted, Sarvis said.
• Informally discussed the need for substantial improvements to Horizon Flats Road in anticipation of the District 6 fire hall’s completion and resulting traffic by heavy trucks. Sarvis said a previous request to the state for funds to make repairs was rejected, but that the town will apply again later this year. Meanwhile, he said, the town will continue to patch the road as necessary.