Group weighs options for Fuquay-Varina arts center

08/21/2014 6:02 PM

08/21/2014 6:03 PM

A committee is trying to figure out the most feasible options for creating an arts center in Fuquay-Varina.

Bob Barker, who owns the Bob Barker Co., which makes supplies for detention centers, has offered to donate a 93,000-square-foot warehouse on Jones Street for a cultural and performing arts center.

The local businessman also offered to provide $1 million in cash and another $25,000 a year, along with undeveloped land for parking spaces.

But even with the donated money, organizers would have to come up with about $12 millionto transform the building, which stands near the intersection of East Jones and North Main streets.

That price tag, along with some unanswered questions about the building itself, led members of the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center Study Committee to decide Wednesday to hold off on making a final decision about the project.

At some point, the committee will make a recommendation to the Fuquay-Varina Board of Commissioners as to whether the arts center should be placed at the donated space, in another existing building or in a new building.

Despite the myriad options, one thing remains clear: Local artists and community leaders believe Fuquay-Varina needs a facility to maintain and grow the local arts and music scene.

Marilyn Gardner, a committee member, said some music teachers have to leave town to find recital spaces. Fellow committee member Bryan Haynes said the high school band travels as far away as Asheboro for some performances.

But a performance space alone wouldn’t make enough money to be self-sufficient, committee members acknowledged. So they also discussed potential sources of revenue.

Some suggested having a small theater and a larger one, so that two shows could take place at once. Others suggested adding conference rooms or a computer lab, so business meetings or classes could be held there during the day.

A few suggested the town rent out space to music and dance teachers or to artists, much like at Artspace in Raleigh. But Blake Massengill, chairman of the committee, and Jason Wunsch pushed back against that idea.

Massengill and Wunsch, who are the two town commissioners serving on the committee, said it could be legally and financially complicated for the town to establish a landlord relationship with private businesses.

Betty Lyn Walters-Eller, who championed the idea of renting studio space to artists, defended what she saw as a way of “keeping arts alive” downtown.

“We’re not doing our job if we’re not looking at all revenue sources,” she said.

If the town were to take over the Bob Barker building, it would have a lot of space to rent out. The warehouse has 17,600 square feet of leaseable space.

A proposed floor plan for the building includes two theaters — a 600-person theater with stadium seating and a stage, and a more intimate area with room for 200.

Plans also include two ballrooms, four conference rooms, a music school, a dance studio, costume and scene shops, a commercial kitchen and a lobby that would double as an art gallery.

One potential drawback of the building, other than cost, is the fact that it would remain home to Explore Church.

Wunsch, who is a member of the church, said it could create legal issues for the town to rent space to a religious group.

Walters-Eller said the arrangement with a church could also lead to problems with public perception.

“Their name is going to be on the side of that building,” Walters-Eller said. “It’s going to be a co-branding issue, whether you like it or not.”

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