The just announced 10-year dream plan for downtown Raleigh is missing a major – and probably the most important – element. There is no mention of expanding the performing arts center.
Since the Durham Performing Arts Center opened nearly a decade ago, Raleigh has taken a back seat to Durham in luring major traveling theatrical shows. The hall in downtown Durham is filled with Raleigh theatergoers as well as theater enthusiasts from Eastern North Carolina who used to make regular sojourns to Raleigh for their entertainment.
Durham’s single theater venue eclipses Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by a mere 300 seats, but the building is better configured to make the theater-going experience better for the audience. The Durham hall has double balconies, meaning more in the audience are closer to the stage than in Memorial with its deep and sweeping orchestra-style seating that stretches from the stage to the back row of the hall. Memorial is a far more beautiful hall with its grand Greek temple lobby and four giant crystal chandeliers, but Durham’s hall is more performance-friendly for patrons.
Raleigh needs to plan now for expansion of its four-theater performing arts center (PAC). The city should purchase the NCAE headquarters west of the PAC with the vision of constructing a 3,000-plus capacity hall, a facility that would actually pay for itself in ticket sales within a decade. Hotel-motel occupancy revenue should finance it.
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Greensboro is about to break ground on a 3,100-seat theater in the heart of that city. For Raleigh to stake its claim as the cultural capital of North Carolina, it must expand the PAC by adding a huge theater for traveling shows and perhaps even a smaller venue for use by local groups.
According to Roger Krupa, retiring head of the Raleigh Convention Center-PAC complex, our theaters are near capacity already. It’s time to move ahead on adding another performance venue or two.
Lee Hansley was chair of the Raleigh Arts Commission when it drafted the plan to expand Memorial Auditorium into the PAC.