In August, Fuquay-Varina’s Board of Commissioners tentatively approved a floor plan for the town’s new arts center, but Tuesday was the first time they got a glimpse of what the exterior could look like.
The Fuquay-Varina Arts Center, at the corner of South Fuquay Avenue and East Vance Street, will primarily be a renovated version of a much older building – the former Stars Theater, itself a former department store – with a new theater attached to it at the rear.
Town Manager Adam Mitchell said the town expects to start accepting bids for the project in early December. The new arts center is expected to be open by March 2018.
Phil Szostak of Szostak Design, the architecture firm contracted to design the new space, said the proposal would make few changes to the existing structure in favor of spending money upfitting the interior and building a first-class theater. The town has approximately $3.1 million to work with, and Szostak tried to keep expectations in check before he revealed renderings of his design.
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“It’s not about what it looks like in particular; it’s about what happens inside,” Szostak said. “What’s great about this town is that you put your money where your mouth is with the arts. Not a lot of towns do that.”
The board unanimously approved his design after a brief discussion of his presentation.
Szostak’s design proposes a white brick building with large glass windows on the bottom floor encircling the lobby. Natural light appears to be a theme of the design. The visual arts studio on the second floor will feature a north-facing skylight, and a two-story glass atrium will join the existing building to the new 300-seat theater, which will be built to match its neighbor in height, material and appearance.
Board members praised the design for its understated elegance and its budgetary prudence. Additionally, Szostak said the slanted awnings around the building’s first floor are meant to invoke the hyphen in the town’s name and its recently adopted motto – “A Dash More.”
“It came down to what does an arts center look like in Fuquay-Varina?” Szostak said. “Not Raleigh, not in Chapel Hill or in Durham, but what does it look like here? And what does it look like with our budget?”
Fuquay-Varina’s project has piqued the interest of some outside the town. Earlier in the meeting, state Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Republican from Cary, presented the board with a check for $50,000 toward the facility, which she secured for the town as part of an appropriations bill from the Senate’s most recent short session.
Maureen Daly, who was hired this spring to lead the arts center, said she has been in talks with the Durham Performing Arts Center to purchase some of their old theater seats at a discounted rate. New seats cost between $500 and $600 apiece, Daly said, but she’s hoping the new arts center can buy them for a third to half of that sum.
Commissioner William Harris raised mild concerns about parking, noting that what has been presented shows only minimal on-site parking behind the building – room for about three vehicles, which Mitchell and Szostak said would likely be reserved for staff or handicapped use.
Town Manager Adam Mitchell said a more complete picture of the downtown parking situation would emerge with the completion of a parking study now underway. For now, it is expected arts center patrons would park along nearby streets or in public lots downtown, a practice Mayor John Byrne said could encourage people to eat dinner or get drinks downtown before or after a show.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan