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Sunday, October 13, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Corrected version

Vera Project opens its doors to music lovers of all ages

Seattle Times staff reporter

It's fitting that a venue that once hosted a then-little-known band called Nirvana has been resurrected as a haunt for fledgling local bands and the teens who want to hear them.

The Vera Project opened the doors to the former Annex Theatre Friday night to about 300 music fans and a trio of punk-rock bands, the first show at the organization's new home at 1916 Fourth Ave. in downtown Seattle.

Dedicated to providing an all-ages outlet for live music, the volunteer-run Vera Project finally has a space to call its own — having signed a three-year lease — after bouncing from rented halls and theaters for 18 months.

Vera represents a step forward in the long struggle between the city and the local music community fueled by the recently overturned Teen Dance Ordinance.

The former ordinance had placed strict regulations on venues admitting minors and had barred those under age 15 from dances.

For some of those ascending the stairs Friday under a ceiling painted with clouds and blue sky, Vera is a heavenly haven.

"It's a place you can regularly go to," said Fletcher Redmayne, 15, of Seattle. "Most people can't afford to go to the KeyArena every Friday night."

A $7 admission fee on Friday bought music fans an ear-splitting three hours of punk rock by bands Akimbo, Fitz of Depression and the Catheters.

The 350-capacity performance area was comfortably close to full by the time Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck — with a little help from 7-year-old son Ben — introduced the first band shortly after 8 p.m.

"I had to wait until I was 17 or 18 to sneak into my first rock concert, and now we can do it legally," Steinbrueck told an enthusiastic crowd. "We believe in all-ages dance."

While the new All Ages Dance Ordinance has drawn fire from those opposed to the idea of adults mingling with teenagers in a nightclub setting, the patrons at Vera on Friday appeared to be mostly teens and 20-somethings.

"Our biggest audience is between the ages of 14 and 24," said Shannon Stewart, managing director. "We try to have all our shows done by 11:30 so people are out by midnight."

The Vera Project will host weekend shows and rent space to organizations, including a local student hip-hop group, on other nights.

"We don't have the funding to be open six days a week, but we hope to in the future," Stewart said. Vera operates with help from the city and private fund raising.

For 2003, the city contributed $35,000 to Vera's near-$200,000 budget.

Volunteers have worked around the clock for several months to renovate the building, which had been vacant for a year. The upstairs space — which includes offices, a small art gallery and a concession stand — still smelled of wet paint Friday.

Fourteen-year-old Erin Wallace, who helped paint two coat closets, called it "homey."

"I'm hoping the city will realize how great it is and buy this place," she said. "I think it's really awesome."

Meanwhile, Peter Richards, 14, said he prefers Vera — which is smoke- and alcohol-free — to all-ages shows at Seattle clubs such as Graceland, Paradox or Showbox.

"Graceland is more for older people," said the Seattle teen. "My mom won't let me go there anymore because it's too smoky."

Pam Sitt: 425-745-7806 or psitt@seattletimes.com.

Information in this article, originally published October 13, was corrected October 20. The Vera Project is not the first all-ages club to open in Seattle, as reported in a previous version of this story. The Paradox in the University District also hosts smoke- and alcohol free, all-ages shows at a local church.

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