Town Hall Seattle executive director Wier Harman has been working on plans for the nonprofit’s $25 million building renovation and upgrade project for the past six years. After being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in May, Harman — a nonsmoker — said he had to cut back on his hours and physically and emotionally prepare his body for the fight ahead.

“Every cancer has sort of radically different survival skills,” Harman said.

By the time Harman’s cancer was identified, it had spread all over his body, he said, making surgery and traditional radiation therapy useless.

Through family and community support, plus his being one of the first patients in Washington approved for a new oral therapy (alectinib) that attacks mutated cells in a person’s body, Harman recently announced he was back at Town Hall Seattle full time.

“I’m really lucky to have the resources and the advantages and the loving community around me that I have,” Harman said, “because it isn’t easy to address this illness.”

Harman said he’s thankful to the specialists at Kaiser Permanente, Swedish Medical Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for helping him navigate the process.

He’s also thankful for his wife, Barbara, whom he met while she was producing a concert in New York’s East Village. Harman said his wife’s background in project management has helped keep him on his medication schedule.

“I had reason to write her yesterday and tell her she’s the reason I’m alive, in a really literal way,” he said. “…She’s a bad ass. And you can print it: She’s a bad ass.”

While Harman’s cancer diagnosis was in May, he said many people don’t realize he was only gone for about three weeks. He came back to Town Hall at about 30 hours a week after that, and is now feeling well enough for a full-time schedule.

“I try to pull a normal 40,” Harman said. “Before the cancer, I was regularly working 55-60, so I’m trying to be kinder to my family, kinder to myself, try to give my body time to heal.”

The Town Hall director’s comeback is timely, as the nonprofit is just starting its $25 million renovation and upgrade of its Roman revival-style building at 1119 Eighth Ave., in First Hill.

Harman spent six years working with his team to get to this point, and four years was spent organizing Inside/Out, Town Hall’s off-campus program that will spread events across Seattle until the First Hill facility is back online.

“It was all happening right now,” Harman said, “and I’m not going to miss it.”

Town Hall changes

Harman started his tenure with Town Hall 12 years ago, and at that time he was asked to help with a capital campaign to upgrade the facility to ensure its future longevity.

Town Hall had around 30 donors that contributed more than $1,000 annually and a $600,000 operating budget back then, he said. Now there are 300 such donors, and Town Hall works with a $2 million operating budget.

“Six years ago, we started biweekly meetings of a building committee to talk about what we wanted to do with the building, “he said.

A feasibility study was commissioned five years ago, and it was determined that the project would only cost $10-12 million, but once development plans got underway all of the costs added up closer to $25 million, Harman said.

“But we went ahead anyway, and now we’re at $22.1 million with a total of 25,” he said, adding the hope is to bridge that funding gap in the near future, but he’s prepared to take out a loan for the remainder. “I would just prefer not to do that.”

Contractors are now preparing for demolition work, making it so the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist building — erected in 1922 — can be seismically retrofitted. This critical need comprises 20 percent of the budget, Harman said.

The Town Hall director is excited about the west end of the building, which will include a new entryway to the Downstairs; that’s where people will notice the most changes when the building reopens in fall 2018.

Lennar Multifamily Communities has been approved to construct two 32-story residential towers next to Town Hall, and has included a plaza space between Seneca Street and Hubbell Place that Harman said will be a great venue for performances, food trucks and just hanging out; Lennar is also seeking a restaurant tenant for the west tower that would benefit from patio seating.

“The developers have been great collaborators so far in visioning what is possible on that block,” he said, adding the footprint of the two buildings will be less than Town Hall’s.

“They want Town Hall to feel like the biggest building on the block,” he said.

Downstairs is where three-fifths of Town Hall events take place, Harman said, and so people can expect to see a dramatic, contemporary change when the building reopens.

“It will be kind of a combination of a bar and a library kind of space,” he said.

Town Hall has moved its offices into space in The Exeter across the street, where it has a seven-year lease. The nonprofit’s old office area will become a new event space, Harman said, called The Reading Room or West Room, as a nod to the building’s Christian Science past.

The nonprofit will eventually move its office into one of Lennar’s twin towers.

The Great Hall will be fitted with an acoustic reflector over the stage and a bass trap behind the organ screen, which should make for a more equitable listening experience during concerts, no matter what seat a person is in.


Town Hall events and programs, including presentations by scholars, book readings by notable local and national authors and concert performances, will be popping up around Seattle through Inside/Out, the nonprofit’s solution to staying active during construction.

Many of those events will take place in Capitol Hill and the Central District, including at Seattle First Baptist, Temple de Hirsch Sinai, The Summit and Seattle University.

“I would call them a founding partner of this initiative,” Harman said of Seattle U.

Town Hall has steering committees in each of the neighborhoods it will be working in, and the second half of Inside/Out will be defined by community input and collaborations.

Staying involved in all of these initiatives has been its own kind of medicine for Harman, and he said his doctor agrees it’s been helpful.

“Not to be corny, but I am living the way I want to live,” Harman said, “and I really believe in Town Hall, and I believe in what this project will mean for the city when it’s done.”