Chapel Hill News

New arts center plan goes to Carrboro Board of Aldermen

Architect Phil Szostak stresses this is just a concept of how the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center might look.
Architect Phil Szostak stresses this is just a concept of how the proposed Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center might look. PHIL SZOSTAK

Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting will give the community a look at the Arts & Innovation Center proposed by three local nonprofits and envisioned by architect Philip Szostak, designer of the Durham Performing Arts Center.

The ArtsCenter, Kidzu Children’s Museum and Carolina Performing Arts have asked the aldermen to consider a joint venture to build a 55,000-square-foot building on a parking lot owned by Main Street Properties of Chapel Hill LLC in the 200 block of East Main Street, across Roberson Street from the Armadillo Grill restaurant.

The center would have three performance venues: a 120-seat theater; a 200-seat theater and an amphitheater that could seat 300 to 450 people.

Szostak emphasized his drawings are just concepts.

“This is not the building,” he said. “This is what you get when you get an architect to do work for you for nothing and he can design whatever he wants. We need to ask if this is right for Carrboro. Is it too tall? Is this what we want?”

Main Street Properties would donate the lot to the town, and the new structure would be leased back to the nonprofits. The current ArtsCenter property would be sold and replaced with a a second downtown hotel, near the Hampton Inn.

The new center center and hotel are expected to cost about $20 million and to generate about $10 million in taxes and visitor spending annually, according to the proposal.

By comparison, The ArtsCenter, a nonprofit that does not pay taxes, currently estimates its annual impact on the town at $3.5 million.

Szostak said economic impact estimates are helpful but miss the mark sometimes. He projected Durham’s DPAC would have an economic impact of about $14 million. Others, he said, were more conservative.

“It turned out that it’s been more like $25 million,” he said.

The project has encountered some resistance from Carrboro Alderwoman Jacquie Gist, who last month voted against scheduling the public hearing. She said she is concerned about the $4.5 million the town is being asked to contribute toward the center’s $12 million construction cost.

“I am not comfortable with asking Carrboro taxpayers to build a building for private organizations,” she said.

Szostak said he's working on simplifying the financial overview into a more understandable format thanks to some feedback from the information sessions.

“We haven’t done the best job of explaining how it will be paid for,” Kidzu Board Chairman Jonathan Mills said. “This project will bring new sources of revenue to Carrboro with more visitors. They’ll also shop and eat in local restaurants.”

ArtCenter Board Chairman Jay Miller said his organization’s vitality is central to the arts scene in Carrboro, as indicated the town’s “Vision 2020” document, published in 2000: “The town should continue to support, as well as encourage its residents to support, the ArtsCenter, which is an integral part of the town’s cultural life.”

Szostak, Mills and Miller have held several public information sessions, hearing concerns and suggestions from local artists, business owners and residents to prepare for the Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

A main concern has been a familiar one.

“Parking is a huge issue. We have to solve the parking issues downtown whether we get this proposal approved on not,” Szostak said. “If we do not solve the parking issues, the project will not go forward. I think we should do this project. I think it’s who we are. Carrboro is all about the arts and I think we’re ready to take this next step.”