The Fireside Building on Main Street is seen in this First City Players photo.

A long-planned performing arts center leads the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s 2014 prioritized capital funding request list.

The arts center wasn’t even on the list before Monday’s Borough Assembly meeting, but after some public comment in favor of the project, the Assembly opted not only to add it, but make it a top priority.

Miguel Torres, who is a First City Players board member, was one of the speakers. He said his family enjoys participating in and watching local performances. Torres said a performing arts center will add to Ketchikan’s appeal.

“As an employer, I know that I have a young lady that graduated from Kayhi, could have had an opportunity to leave, and she stayed, and she helps very much by teaching kids, and helping them with Gigglefeet and doing things that at a performing arts center would be wonderful,” he said. “And she loves this town because of that. Having a performing arts center in our downtown area is something that will assist these families to enjoy their stay here and perhaps encourage many others to come.”

The arts center is spearheaded by Ketchikan’s community theater organization, First City Players, and the local dance school, Ketchikan Theatre Ballet. In 2009, with help from city and borough grants, the groups bought the old Fireside building on Main Street downtown and have been renovating it.

Before the groups bought the building, it was used for storage by then-owner First Bank. First City Players plans to move its offices into the building by Sept. 1st. It now has offices at The Plaza mall.

The Fireside, originally the Elks Lodge building, opened in 1949. At one time, it housed a bowling alley, cocktail lounge, card room, billiard room, library and a ballroom area. It later became the Fireside Lounge, and was a popular restaurant and dance club for local residents.

The performing arts center design plan dedicates the Fireside’s basement to storage and an office for First City Players. The first floor will house four large dance-rehearsal studios and office space for the dance school. The second floor will have a theater and commercial kitchen.

Assembly Member Todd Phillips says supporting the arts is important.

“The reason why I’m going to vote for this is, number one, we do fund a lot of money for sports in our community,” he said. “I believe, really, that we need to have a well-rounded community, which includes the arts. And the more that we can do, the better it does attract people. It’s definitely economic development. It’s important.”

The motion to add a $1.8 million funding request for the performing arts center passed unanimously. The Assembly also added to the list a $1 million request for an emergency training center, and $860,000 for improvements to Wood Road.

The Assembly then talked about how to prioritize all the projects. Mayor Dave Kiffer said the top three items on the borough’s list are most likely to be considered for funding, especially after the legislative liaison committee meets and adds projects submitted by the City of Ketchikan and City of Saxman.

The Assembly’s top three are, in order, the arts center, improvements to service area roads, and improvements to bleachers and grandstands at athletic fields.

Following those three are requests for airport safety equipment, improvements to South Tongass sewer and water, improvements to the Mountain Point water treatment plant, water distribution on South Tongass, water storage on North Tongass, a new animal protection vehicle, and a new dock for Loring.

Also on Monday, the Assembly approved the formation of an ad hoc animal protection committee. The seven-member committee will comprise one Assembly member, two borough residents, two Ketchikan Humane Society members, the Animal Protection Department director and the borough manager.

Among its responsibilities, the committee will look into needs at the Animal Protection Department, including a potential new shelter. It also will investigate how to address those needs and a budget for improvements.