A year ago, town officials were scrambling to put the finishing touches on a new downtown arts and events center.
Wake Forest had bought two adjoining buildings for $1.2 million in the summer of 2013 to create the center, which seemed like a great deal to them compared with the cost and time of starting from scratch.
But they didn’t know yet who would use the newly named Renaissance Centre or how many people would show up to the center’s shows or rent out the space.
A year later, thousands of people have made their way through the doors for concerts, children’s puppet shows, weddings and conferences. A first-anniversary celebration featuring jazz musician Marcus Anderson is planned for Saturday.
“It’s a big thing for us because we were sitting nervously anticipating what would happen,” said Ruben Wall, the town’s director of parks and recreation.
By the end of the year, the center will have hosted 51 ticketed events. It has sold 3,500 tickets, and thousands more people have attended free community events and private parties and conferences.
The center has brought in $35,000 through online ticket sales and about $5,000 more through cash sales, in addition to the revenue from private rentals, said manager Pam Stevens.
The center operates as part of the town’s overall budget. It’s not expected to be self-sustaining.
Mayor Vivian Jones said that in the same way the town provides recreational athletics, there’s a need for performing arts and other entertainment programming.
“I think it’s just part of the quality of life for our citizens,” she said. “They want the cultural arts.”
Jones said she’s pleased so far with the range of programming at the center and its attendance numbers.
“I think we’ve had some great events there, and I think the community had just grabbed hold of it,” she said.
Wall said the center’s flexibility has been part of its appeal. There’s no fixed seating, so the main room can be easily configured for a seated reception, a concert or a lecture.
“We didn’t want to have the facility in a box and say, ‘This is all you can do,’ ” he said.
In addition to evening and weekend concerts and plays, the center has a steady rotation of community events such as craft nights, movie nights and book discussions that have drawn 900 people so far this year.
Stevens said she’s pleased ideas for those events have come from residents who are looking for ways to make the the Renaissance Centre their own.
It’s a trend she hopes will continue as the center expands its offerings at a classroom annex next door to include a theater program and art classes. Community members can approach the center about teaching.
“We not only provide opportunities for people to learn art, but we provide opportunities for people to teach and share their passions,” Stevens said.
Jones said the town someday may need a different facility to meet its cultural arts needs. For now, though, the center has become a much-needed resource.
“I think it’s going to be a great thing for the town for a number of years,” she said.