An overflow crowd filled Carrboro Town Hall to talk about a proposed $15 million Arts and Innovation Center that would replace and relocate the ArtsCenter on Main Street.
The turnout, which spilled into the hallway, prompted Mayor Lydia Lavelle to announce at the outset of Tuesday night’s meeting that the board would continue to hear comments Feb. 3.
The existing ArtsCenter in Carrboro and Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill have proposed the center and hope to raise $7.5 million for it in the next 16 months. The project would require an equal contribution from the town.
“If we don’t raise that money, the project doesn’t go forward,” said architect Philip Szostak, who also designed the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Under the plan, the ArtsCenter would move from its current building in the 300 block of East Main Street into the proposed Arts and Innovation Center in the 200 block, across the street from the Armadillo Grill restaurant.
A hotel would be built on the ArtsCenter site, and future property taxes and proposed occupancy taxes from that hotel would enable the town to pay its share of the center’s costs, supporters say.
Former town leaders lined up for and against the project.
“I love the arts,” former Alderman Braxton Fouhsee said, “but not $5 million worth. We have too many other priorities.” The town needs affordable housing and its long-promised library, which has been on hold for lack of funding, he said.
Former Alderwoman Joal Hall Broun noted other existing needs such as an upgrade to the public works facilities. “It’s not sexy,” she said, “but everybody wants their trash picked up on time.”
Most of those who spoke against the project were concerned about paying for it. The plan assumes that the hotel will open in January 2018 and that the town will get approval from state lawmakers to levy hotel occupancy taxes.
But former Mayor Ellie Kinnaird, a project supporter, told the board that vision is rarely associated with popularity.
“Naysayers asked who needs a farmers market?” she said of the town’s successful farmers market beside Town Hall.
County Commissioner and former Alderman Mark Dorosin, however, made an impassioned plea on behalf of Cat’s Cradle, the well-known club in the 300 block of East Main Street that would be affected by the project.
“Think about the Cat’s Cradle,” he said. “Any restaurant or bar owner can tell you the effect it has on their business when the Cradle has a big show going on. The Cradle has a national reputation.”
“In 2008, a proposal was made to this board and the developers used that reputation to pressure this board to approve a project, saying it would not just preserve the Cradle, but enhance it,” he continued. “If the project was not approved, the developers said, the Cradle’s going to move to Durham.”
The Board of Aldermen subsequently approved the redevelopment of the 300 East Main Street shopping center now under way, but protecting the Cat’s Cradle, he said, no longer seems to be a town priority.
“This proposal is a means to an end,” Dorosin said. “It’s not about building an Arts Center, it’s about building a hotel.”
Dorosin’s remarks drew one of the few audible comments from any of the current aldermen during the 21/2-hour meeting.
“Amen,” said Alderwoman Jacquie Gist.