Plans for a new downtown performing arts center in Greensboro are moving forward. City officials and fundraisers finalized an agreement this month about construction and operation details for "The Steven B. Tanger Center For The Performing Arts". A ground-breaking could take place this fall. The building is expected to host Broadway shows and co-exist with a state-of-the-art venue just down the road, Durham's Performing Arts Center (DPAC.)
DPAC has been doing really well, but not everyone thought it would at the beginning. And there are some lessons that Greensboro can take from DPAC's development process.
Lessons from Durham's DPAC
The Broadway musical Evita stopped for a series of shows at DPAC earlier this month.
"DPAC's at the top of the list. It has become a national icon in the theater industry," said Nick Scandalios, the Executive Vice President at Nederlander. He oversees 9 Broadway theaters in New York as well as performing arts centers across the country.
"DPAC is a date that they want in the first six months of their tour because of the size and success of the subscription and the response of the community of the single tickets," he added.
DPAC has exceeded ticket sale expectations, turned a profit the last three years and earned multiple national awards as one of the best venues of its kind in the country.
Despite the current success, many in Durham voiced opposition to the project when it started.
"There were a lot of naysayers in the community and those that were either against it because they felt it was in the wrong location or against it because they didn't think we needed it or against it because it was going to hurt existing theaters or against it because they didn't think there was a market for it," said Mayor Bill Bell.
Just a few years after those critics were silenced; another project, "The Steven B. Tanger Center For The Performing Arts" in Greensboro is now in the works.
Elected officials in Greensboro have agreed on financing, building and management procedures as part of a 50-year agreement.
Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmoreland says he hopes the facility will do the following: "Provide a specific identity and enhanced quality of life here in Greensboro." He will be one of the people overseeing this 65 million dollar project. Supporters stress this isn't a money-making venture. It's a cultural addition to the community.
Westmoreland notes the Coliseum complex runs about a two million dollar deficit annually, but is an important staple to Greensboro. The Coliseum hosts major sporting events and rock concerts. The complex also includes an outdoor amphitheater, an aquatic center and an aging auditorium.
The city is phasing out that War Memorial Auditorium as part of the new Performing Arts Center. A non-profit has 35 million dollars in pledged private support. The city will kick-in 30 million dollars and plans to recoup that over several decades.
"Part of how the financing works is structured is based off of facility fees, it's based off of parking fees, it's based off of future hotel-motel tax contributions. The money itself is not there, it will be there over time is the center develops and performs," Westmoreland said.
How will this affect smaller venues?
A one dollar surcharge for every ticket sold by the new venue will go to help other local arts groups.
When DPAC went up there were concerns about how it would affect smaller venues. But that doesn't seem to have caused any significant issues in the Triangle.
The initial plan in Greensboro is for one third of the shows to be Broadway Performances and major concerts, one third of the line-up to be filled by acts like the Greensboro Symphony and Guilford College's Bryan speaker series, with the final third comprised of community events.
Like Durham there are some questions.
"The structure that they're creating for the performing arts center is a more complicated structure," said Richard Wittington, Managing Director and co-founder of Triad Stage - a smaller theater venue downtown. He supports this project.
That structure he mentions goes like this:
- The city will own the venue
- A yet-to-be-formed non-profit will govern it
- Matt Brown of the Greensboro Coliseum will oversee the day-to-day
- A to-be-determined outside company will be brought in to handle Broadway shows.
Westmoreland says while there are many chefs in the kitchen, everyone is on the same page.
Build it, will they come?
Regionalism could provide another challenge for all of these organizers as they work to fill the seats. Wittington says the Triad can feel a little more divided than the Triangle.
"It's interesting, we're having to remind our audiences in both Greensboro and Winston-Salem that there is actually a road that will take you between the two cities, that there is no wall in Kernersville and that you don't need a passport to get over the county line - which is some of the things I heard when we first got to town."
He says those attitudes are diminishing, and regionalism is growing.
To the east is of course DPAC, and it's visiting Broadway acts. Nick Scandalios from Nederlander says about 10 percent of Durham audiences come from Greensboro.
He says he believes there is room for both venues.
"All I can tell you is my own experience. I've been in the theater industry for 27 years and I've never seen it happen. We operate the Pentages Theater in Los Angeles, the performing arts theater in Costa Mesa is 40 miles away."
Of course LA is a much bigger market and there doesn't appear to be a good comparison for two venues of this kind in nearby mid-sized cities. No one really knows what impact, if any, these two will have on each other.
Like DPAC, this venue is a key component of a larger redevelopment effort in downtown.
When the Greensboro venue is complete it's expected to surpass DPAC in seating capacity as the largest Performing Arts Center between Washington and Atlanta. The hope is for a grand opening in 2016.