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Performing Arts Center Studied In Greensboro

In November of 2008 the Durham Performing Arts Center opened its doors to Broadway performances, and big name musical acts. By virtually all accounts D-PAC has been a success, welcoming more visitors and earning more money than many had expected. Now Greensboro is considering following suit. Residents, politicians and leaders of the arts community are discussing G-PAC. Supporters say the proposed 50 million dollar facility would boost the local economy and make the city a better place to live. But there are many questions: such as location, parking and would voters approve it?

Jeff Tiberii: A crowd of about 50 people sits around linen covered ballroom tables at the Empire Room in downtown Greensboro. The City Council has asked a task force to assess the feasibility of creating a downtown arts venue. That task force is holding community forums to find out what people think of this idea. The majority of those in attendance at this forum support the arts and like the initiative. Woody Faulker is a long-time Greensboro resident and Artistic Director of the Triad Pride Men’s Chorus.

Woody Faulker: To be able to spread your money around, when you come downtown. You park, you walk by shops, by restaurants, come early, eat, stay late, after the show have a drink.

But there are detractors. Billy Jones says the city has done enough with downtown development. He’d like to see some projects in his neighborhood of East Greensboro.

Billy Jones: In the current economic environment, the voters aren’t going for it; you need to look at other neighborhoods.

Greensboro has several performance venues. The Carolina Theater seats 11-hundred people, Triad Stage holds 300, and an old newspaper building turned cultural arts center hosts some small, local groups. The largest venue in town is the War Memorial Auditorium, part of the Greensboro Coliseum complex. Broadway shows used to come through, but by many accounts the 53-year-old building is outdated.

Local leaders want a venue that will attract Broadway hits, like Wicked, which will be at the Durham Performing Arts Center for most of May.

Leaders of the Coliseum have tried for years to secure voter approved bonds and use the money for significant renovations at the War Memorial. Citizens rejected a 35 million dollar bond measure in 2006 and a 50 million dollar referendum two years later. At-large City councilwoman Nancy Vaughn says right now the enthusiasm is not for the Coliseum, but for a new venue downtown. However, she doesn’t think the city can finance the entire project.

Nancy Vaughn:  In order to make downtown work there is going have to be significant private investment. And I think this would be a good opportunity for public-private partnership. If this seems to be the area where the most people want it than it looks that ought to be where we build it.

The leaders of this proposal haven’t decided on a specific location, number of seats or design. The best estimates have this at a 50 million dollar project, with 30 million coming from the city, another 10 from private investors and 11 million from the hotel/motel tax across a period of several years.

The City Council has charged the task force with finding out if such an investment makes sense. They’re trying to answer many questions, among them: Is there a viable downtown location? Does enough parking exist? And maybe most importantly - can the space serve national and local acts, while coexisting with the arts venues already in town.

Louise Brady is co-chair of the task force. She says an outside consultant is looking at similar size cities that have a performing arts competitor within 100 miles.

Louise Brady: Thus far it’s looking positive. But we don’t have the results yet. They’re telling us ‘yes’, some sort of facility is warranted. We don’t know what size. We’re not sure that it’s going to be economically impactful downtown.

Planners say a key to financial success is bringing in new acts, shows and exhibits that compliment the other options in town. Brady isn’t sure how much competition there would be with D-Pac for Broadway acts and other national performances. Chorus director Woody Faulkner would ideally like to see a place that brings in those headliner events, and also has some flexible space for smaller arts groups. He’s been thinking about a new venue for 10 years.

Woody Faulkner: The opportunity has sort of slipped by or has been not quite right for the public’s mood to be able to digest and understand what kind of impact that would have. If not now, then when?

The Task Force has one more community forum on May 24th before it presents all of its findings to the City Council. If the council wants to move ahead it has until June 19th to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters for their approval on a downtown performing arts venue.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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