The Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts has a lot of visitors – about 400,000 per year, spread between 600 performances in four auditoriums.
“It gets beat up,” said Jim Lavery, general manager for the Raleigh Convention Center, which includes the performing arts complex on the south end of Fayetteville Street.
“We’ve got something going on every day.”
There are scuffs on the carpet, scratches on the varnished wood and often impatient crowds in the cramped women’s bathrooms. So, starting around June, the city of Raleigh will put more than $10 million into a renovation of the facility.
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The project will include new lighting inside and out, a rebuilt concessions area, new fire-safety and security systems – and a lot of new paint. Lavery expects the renovations will be finished within a few months.
It’s the first major update in 25 years for Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, the original theater at the heart of the center. The modern wings – Meymandi Concert Hall, Fletcher Opera Theater and Kennedy Theater – haven’t seen significant renovations since they opened in 2001.
The complex features layers of rooms and walls, with sections dating back to 1932, when the central auditorium opened. Before then, the site had been home to both the governor’s mansion and the City Auditorium. Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, a federal Works Progress Administration project, opened in 1932.
Since then, a fire station, N.C. State University’s home basketball games and countless performances have occupied the site.
The upgrade is part of a $17.7 million spending package – funded by debt – that the city council approved several years ago, according to city staff. Last year, the city upgraded the heating and cooling systems.
Now it’s time for the lobbies, exterior restrooms and auditoriums. In general, the planners aim for better lighting and a more open feel.
“We want to make it stunning,” Lavery said, standing in the glass concourse. “It’s kind of gloomy down here.”
He hopes to make the complex more visible by installing new lighting on the pillars that front the building, and moving the huge chandeliers several feet, so they’re visible from the outside.
The renovations also will update floor and ceiling materials throughout the complex, including well-lit wavy-textured walls for the dim side corridors.
“Somebody said it looks like a bordello,” Lavery said.
The main women’s bathroom will get 14 new stalls, and will be connected to another of the current bathrooms; the entire facility will be renovated to “be like a palace,” Lavery said. That’s a good thing, he said, when women comprise 70 percent of your audience.
The textured carpets, meanwhile, will be replaced by a brown carpet with a giant, wispy “smoke” design stretching throughout the building. The concessions bar, which now sits in a pit several steps below the rest of the lobby floor, will be raised and updated.
A new wall in the central theater’s lobby will honor the name of the place – Raleigh Memorial Auditorium – by listing the residents of Wake County who have died in military service. The building’s current memorial plaque stops at World War II. Television screens above the wall will show images for upcoming shows.
“It will be very tasteful,” Lavery said.
The changes have been approved by the city’s Convention and Performing Arts Center Commission, he said.
What won’t make the cut are new seats, which would cost $750,000 for the update Lavery wants, or renovated dressing rooms.
Lisa Greele Barrie, president of the N.C. Theatre company, says some of her patrons have been waiting for an update to the building.
“We certainly hear comments about the restrooms, about getting in and out of the venues. We see that congestion of the space (with people),” she said.
“Everything that I’ve heard is very exciting to me – we produce great art – freshening up the venue can only make our patron experience better.”
The construction work will have little impact on summer scheduling, Lavery said. He said the complex will have fewer shows, but will keep an active calendar by dividing the construction timetable into stages.