Fuquay-Varina residents had a chance to offer input on the future of the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center Thursday and to discuss how to best make use of the downtown property.
Roughly 35 residents, artists and stakeholders attended the open house, which took place on the bottom floor of the former Stars Theater, a two-story structure built in the early 20th century as a Belk department store.
Phil Szostak of Chapel Hill-based firm Szostak Design, which also designed the Durham Performing Arts Center, facilitated the discussion about potential blueprints. Attendees could group themselves at tables around the building to list their priorities as they related to the visual arts, music, dance or theater.
This was the second open house to talk about the 11,500-square-foot property on Vance Street that the town bought last May. Dozens attended the first meeting last month.
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The building is smaller than a warehouse that also was considered as an arts and convention center. And with the smaller space comes an increased emphasis on the idea of the facility as the centerpiece of a broader Fuquay-Varina arts district instead of a one-stop shop.
“There’s already a lot of arts going on in the private sector in the downtown Fuquay area,” Assistant Town Manager Mark Matthews said. “I would hope this would be an anchor in the midst of the arts district, a catalyst for a lot of different arts-related functions to take place.”
But space constraints also could make the task of adequately servicing the rapidly growing town and its arts community a tricky one. Officials stressed the early hour of the decision-making process, but prevailing visions for the space seem to center around expanding the theater from its current 147-seat capacity to possibly more than 300.
Matthews said dance programs are “by far” the most popular the town offers, but that demand for theater programs and other facilities could be hidden by the fact that they simply don’t exist yet. The town is hoping to use input from forums such as Thursday’s to effectively appropriate the remaining square footage to accommodate that demand.
Pinkie Strothers is president of the Fuquay-Varina Arts Council, which has galleries in businesses around town. Among other things, she enjoys constructing true-to-life miniatures and dioramas of historic buildings and scenes.
Her primary goal as a representative of the council, she said, is to secure space for a permanent office and gallery, which the Arts Council currently does without. But as a member of the arts community, Strothers said she’s concerned that a plan that includes a larger theater could compromise what she feels is the true mission of a cultural arts center.
“You talk about a 600-seat theater – how often is that going to be used or filled?” she said. “There should be rooms for dance, there should be room for art, there should be room for music and poetry. It should be all-encompassing, because that’s what cultural arts is.”
Fuquay-Varina has set aside $2 million to renovate the historic building during the next two years, although Town Manager Adam Mitchell said it might seek up to $1.5 million in additional funding from outside sources if a more expensive design is deemed worth the cost.
The town last spring rejected local businessman Bob Barker’s offer of a 136,000-square foot warehouse three blocks north of the accepted site in favor of the smaller, less-expensive building. It bought the property for $575,000. Arts centers in the comparably sized towns of Garner and Holly Springs are 47,300 and 22,000 square feet, respectively.
“We weren’t necessarily at the point for the bigger model,” Mitchell said. “But perhaps we’re growing at a pace where this model won’t last us forever either. Maybe we operate out of this facility for five, 10 years. We do really well and build a base, and that escalates us to be able to take on that next big step.”
Henry Gargan: 919-460-2604, @hgargan