VANCOUVER, WA-While San Francisco is establishing emergency funds to help actors and artists pay their skyrocketing rents caused by space-hungry software companies, the owner of a software company in Southwest Washington is gobbling up space to preserve it for the arts.

Martin Hash, owner of Hash Inc., a 13-year-old maker of 3-D character animation software, is paying $750,000 cash for the 12,000-sf Columbia Arts Center, an early 20th-century church with 40-foot ceilings that the city purchased in 1981 for $350,000. The city then completely renovated and upgraded the building into the Columbia Arts Center, and from 1981 to 1998 a nonprofit corporation also called Columbia Arts Center operated the center. The city put the building on the market last year for $895,000 after the Cooperative Arts Council of Clark County, which took over operation of the facility, folded.

The arts community–particularly theater companies–has complained about the loss of performance space since the center went on the market. No more. Hash Inc. operations manager Steve Sappington tells that the company will use only 2,500 sf of the building’s basement and balcony for its offices, and turn over management of the theatrical and arts space to the nonprofit Blue Parrot Theatre. Better yet, Sappington says Hash is giving the theater company several months at least to get itself in a position to be able to cover the $5,000 a month it will cost to operate the facility. Blue Parrot plans to begin putting on shows in the center’s approximately 400-seat auditorium sometime next summer. As well, Blue Parrot plans to transform its portion of the building’s daylight basement into a rehearsal room, a dance studio, an intimate theater and a small art gallery.

The new space is good for Hash, too. “We currently own the building we are in, but it’s not impressive and we have outgrown it,” says Sappington. “We needed some place a little more striking, a little more marketable, and we have been in love with that building for years.”

The company’s 12 employees are now in offices at 2800 E. Evergreen Blvd., which Sappington described as “a completely unpretentious house we’ve been in since about 1987.” The sale is expected to close Nov. 28. Hash plans to move into the building three days later, with the hope of being settled in before the holidays.

“Frankly, there’s no renovation necessary,” says Sappington. “We’ll refinish the floors, and lay some marble tile here and there, but it’s the city that spent countless dollars updating it and making sure it was absolutely up to code with sprinklers, fire alarms and a brand new HVAC system. We feel very fortunate.”

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