ArtsCenter needs a new home. Why it won’t be a future county library site in Carrboro.

The nonprofit ArtsCenter has offered arts classes, camps and performances out of this former Piggly Wiggly store in Carrboro for more than 40 years. The venue is looking for a new home after dropping out of a partnership with Orange County and the town this week.
The nonprofit ArtsCenter has offered arts classes, camps and performances out of this former Piggly Wiggly store in Carrboro for more than 40 years. The venue is looking for a new home after dropping out of a partnership with Orange County and the town this week. tgrubb@heraldsun.com

The ArtsCenter is going to move, but it won’t be moving into a $25 million library and civic building planned for an existing downtown parking lot.

The timing of the 203 S. Greensboro St. project just isn’t going to work out, executive director Daniel Mayer said. A possible new site for the ArtsCenter could be announced in a few months, he said.

“Our schedule and their schedule — just how the project was unfolding — it wasn’t working out,” Mayer said. “They have a lot of issues to resolve regarding parking and different aspects of the project. I’m trying to take the ArtsCenter through a faster process.”

The decision comes roughly nine months after the Carrboro Board of Aldermen approved a development agreement with the arts and entertainment nonprofit for part of the 65,000-square-foot building on roughly an acre of town-owned land.

Carrboro was excited about the partnership with the county and the ArtsCenter, Mayor Lydia Lavelle said. There have been many conversations about how to make the deal work, she said.

“We always knew that this was a point at which, especially the ArtsCenter was really going to have to take a hard look at it and decide whether they want to move forward,” Lavelle said.

“I think we’re all disappointed it’s not going to work out in the fashion we had hoped over the last several months, but the ArtsCenter is still a much beloved member of our community,” she said. “We look forward to having them stay in Carrboro and hopefully program in Carrboro as they kind of regroup and figure out what plans they have for the future.”

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This town-owned parking lot at 203 S. Greensboro St. in Carrboro will be the future home of Orange County’s Southern Branch Library, town Recreation and Parks offices, and a number of smaller civic groups. Tammy Grubb tgrubb@heraldsun.com

Besides a southern branch of the Orange County Public Library — replacing the Cybrary and McDougle library branches in Carrboro — the new building could house Carrboro town offices, a Teen Center, Virtual Justice Center and the community radio station WCOM.

Lavelle said she is confident the new parking will be in place by the time construction is underway on the new building. The town and county are looking at multiple solutions, she said.

The ArtsCenter decision will force the town and county to reallocate the cost of designing and constructing the building. The town has agreed to pay half the cost of preparing the site and building common elements, such as elevators and roofs, plus the cost to finish and furnish the town’s spaces.

The county has budgeted $7.6 million toward the project’s design and construction.

The negotiations and planning have delayed construction, Lavelle said, but the governments will be able to move forward with more certainty now that they are the only partners. Construction could begin by late 2020, or maybe sooner, she said.

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Meanwhile, the ArtsCenter is working on “an exit strategy” from the former Piggly Wiggly store it has occupied since the mid-1980s, Mayer said. Main Street Partners LLC, owner of the East Main Square development at 300 E. Main St., plans to redevelop the strip mall that is home to the ArtsCenter, Cat’s Cradle, Vencino Brewing Co. and Amante Gourmet Pizza.

Main Street Partners made a $700,000 loan to the ArtsCenter in November, setting up the sale of the center’s building to the developer by Dec. 31, 2023, according to Orange County property records.

Officials with Main Street Partners LLC did not return calls asking about the status of the 300 East Main redevelopment project. Mayer said it’s been over 30 years since the ArtsCenter building was remodeled.

“This building is really old and really in terrible shape,” he said. “During the recent snowstorm, we had a lot of flooding. The walls were dripping, floors were warping. It’s a 1960s Piggly Wiggly, and it’s about time we move out.”

The best space would allow them to grow and serve more than their 90,000-plus annual visitors, he said. The ceramic studio classes are always sold out, and the programs and children’s camps don’t have room to grow, he noted.

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The ArtsCenter’s previous attempt to find a new home — the Arts and Innovation Center proposed for a 200 E. Main St. parking lot — was rejected by the town in 2015. That plan, a partnership with the Kidzu Children’s Museum, was for a four-story, 55,000-square-foot building.

Mayer said they still are talking with Kidzu and other community partners. The museum has approached the town of Chapel Hill about building its new home on town land near Southern Village. Kidzu now leases space in the University Place mall.

Lavelle said the best solution would keep the ArtsCenter in Carrboro.

“One point we’ve made with them all along is the ArtsCenter is a treasured organization in our community, and we really would like them to stay in Carrboro if at all possible. I think they feel that way as well,” she said. “I think part of the reason our restaurants and our downtown shops do pretty well is the traffic from the ArtsCenter and the traffic from the [Cat’s] Cradle.”

Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.