Owner puts Firehouse Performing Arts Center up for sale; hopes buyer will continue community focus


Walking into the Firehouse Performing Arts Center at 1314 Harris Ave., in Fairhaven, the first thing that hits you is the scent of strong coffee. That's in the Firehouse Café.

Then there's the low chatter of the patrons, many of whom live in the neighborhood, nibbling on baked goods and rustling their newspapers, playing chess or working on their laptops.

If you're going there to see a performance, you might be wowed by the beautiful sheen of the wooden floor and the quiet ambiance of the intimate performance space, with the risers that nearly reach the ceiling.

I've attended many performances there since the center opened in 2005 - concerts, theatrical productions and dance programs- and it's the intimacy of the space that's most remarkable.

And classes in hula, tai chi and yoga have been offered to the community over the years.

Now, owner Matt Christman said his family is getting ready to sell the center.

His father, Bob Christman, died in 2012, and his mother, Bess, is "slowing down," he says. The family originally bought the space.

Matt says the time is right for him to "make good" on his promise to pay the family back for their investment in his dream to create a "community-oriented performing arts center" in the old "Fairhaven Firehouse."

Matt says the process of purchasing the firehouse was such a public process - it was originally Fairhaven's fire station that opened in 1927 - that he feels he owes it to the community to let them know his intention to sell, as well as to let them know that the sale will be preferentially oriented to a group or person interested in keeping it a community-oriented performing arts facility while allowing him to meet the amount he need to pay his family back.

Matt says that once he tallied up what his family invested, it came to $1 million, so he's asking that amount. He says it seems like quite a bit, but there are four building lots, the historic fire station and all the equipment for the theater, cafe, apartment, etc.

If a person or group isn't forthcoming with such an offer by June, Matt says, they will entertain buyers with other interests for the purchase. He hopes a local investor - or investors - will be willing to step up to the plate to purchase or donate to the end of keeping it a performance space and community center.

With a donation or sale under those auspices, his wish is that the center would continue to be made available "to all the amazing community artists, educators and community advocates that have produced their art for the benefit of the community all these years."

Although Matt has been spreading the word "through the Bellingham 'grapevine," he thinks it's time to inform the community at large of his intention to sell.

"It has been a challenging road," he says, "but I have loved creating the Firehouse Performing Arts Center with my wife, Alona, my father, and family; and I have dearly loved watching the community arts thrive within its warm walls."

In a Herald interview in 2006, Matt said his favorite moment at the center (at that time, anyway), was during a guitar concert, when two musicians slowly ebbed out their playing until, he says, the audience seemed to stop breathing, in unison, to listen.

"It's little moments like that," he said in the interview, "that make you fall back in love with life."

Next up at the Firehouse: "Phrasings in Word & Dance," a collaboration between the dancers of Bellingham Repertory Dance and the writers of Chuckanut Sandstone Writers Theater.

"Phrasings" is on stage at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 11-13. Tickets are $15 general, $12 students and seniors, available in advance at Village Books and through Brown Paper Tickets.


For details about events at Firehouse Performing Arts Center, go to appleseedmac.com/firehouse.

Matt Christman can be reached at firehouseperformingsrts@gmail.com or 360-306-0595.

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