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April 7, 2020
Several local nonprofits involved in architecture and historic preservation have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seattle Architecture Foundation has refunded all tour revenue for March and April, canceled a special event and put on hold other events in the works.
“Everything we do is on hold,” said Stacy Segal, executive director of the foundation, which educates the public on the architecture, design and history of Seattle.
Historic Seattle and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation have also been adversely affected.
SAF has delayed for one month its tour season, which it plans to start in June.
About 30% its tourgoers are typically from out of state, so “we're definitely expecting smaller groups this year,” Segal said.
Also, many of its after-school programming offerings, field trips and workshops for schools have been canceled.
Segal said SAF appreciates the support it has received from the architecture, engineering, construction industry as “that is what is carrying us through and allows us to remain a viable organization.”
Since the pandemic started, she said, SAF has asked some industry partners to continue their support, “but we realize everybody is stretched right now.” It is encouraging other donors to give.
In the near-term, SAF recognizes it will have to change the way it works, with more virtual programing and online activities, and hopes to take advantage of the skills of its volunteers to help create that.
It is working on educational curriculum it can put online and be taught by parents and educators, such as workshops for children on housing or building a healthy community. It plans virtual tour-guide training this year, and is investigating online lectures and continuing to work on developing a free new mobile architecture app that people can use on their own.
“It really is another way to serve the community,” Segal said.
SAF still plans its big events, such as the architectural model exhibit, but like the tour season, they may involve smaller groups and take a different form. ”We realize all these things may look different,” Segal said.
Naomi West, director of philanthropy and engagement at Historic Seattle, a historic preservation nonprofit and public development authority of the city of Seattle, said “we've been trying as best we can to take it one day at a time.”
The organization's buildings — all historic — host more than 255,000 visitors each year and offer below-market rents for 26 nonprofits, and have 48 affordable apartments in them.
In March and April, Historic Seattle has lost nearly $50,000 from canceled events in the buildings it had to close because of the pandemic and from non-housing-related rental income, West said.
It hopes to get $5,000 from a $1 million pot of money from 4Culture. And it has received $10,000 from the city's arts and culture emergency relief fund. But, put in perspective, that $10,000 covers its short-term rental losses at its Good Shepherd Center since the pandemic, West said.
She said Historic Seattle is committed to paying the salary and benefits for it staff of 15 through April 30, and to prevent the displacement of the nonprofits and housing tenants. “Our greatest commitment in all of this is to the people who sustain our community, but the longer this goes on the more hard choices we have to make.”
That's where donors and the government come in.
The organization recently began a fundraising campaign different from what it's done in the past. It is letting potential donors know Historic Seattle is about more than just saving “old, beautiful mansions,” — that is sustains a community of artists, and nonprofit and affordable housing tenants, West said.
“This is the first time we are actually asking our supporters to help people ... instead of trying to save a particular place,” she said.
She said it is trying to plan for the future, which is challenging given that COVID-19 has “no end date to it.”
Chris Moore, executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, an advocacy organization, said its major fundraiser of year, scheduled for May 9, was canceled, although it hopes to hold it later in the year.
And all third-party events, such as weddings, to be held at the Stimson-Green Mansion in Seattle, the trust's headquarters, have been canceled, causing the trust to lose revenue.
Just recently an event the trust planned to host this week was canceled, a statewide conference on historic preservation and downtown revitalization. The event is part of the trust's management of the Washington State Main Street Program.
“Everything between now and pretty much the end of May is canceled,” Moore said.
He said it is fortunate his organization is somewhat diversified unlike some other cultural heritage nonprofits. The Main Street Program is backed by some state dollars available through the end of the biennium. Moore said the program is important, because, given COVID-19, “the switch has been turned off, if you will” on Main Street communities in the state.
Moore said the trust is working on a deferred payment plan for two tenants at the Stimson-Green Mansion who can't pay April rent.
Like other nonprofits, it is feeling the impact of the pandemic on fundraising but it's still too early to know how it might affect membership, recruitment and sponsorship. The trust is trying to determine what elements of the $2 trillion federal relief package it can participate in, Moore said.
One thing is certain, he said, “No one is coming out of this unscathed.”
Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.