Chapel Hill News

UNC, Carolina Performing Arts reveal plans for downtown Chapel Hill arts center

UNC, Carolina Performing Arts and the town of Chapel Hill announced Wednesday, May 27, 2015, the creation of The Core@Carolina Square. The new innovation lab, studio and theater will bring nearly 8,500 square feet of performance and creative space to downtown Chapel Hill.
UNC, Carolina Performing Arts and the town of Chapel Hill announced Wednesday, May 27, 2015, the creation of The Core@Carolina Square. The new innovation lab, studio and theater will bring nearly 8,500 square feet of performance and creative space to downtown Chapel Hill. Contributed

UNC and its Carolina Performing Arts unveiled plans Wednesday for nearly 8,500 square feet of performing arts lab, studio and theater space at the heart of downtown Chapel Hill.

The Core@Carolina Square, to be built at 123 W. Franklin St., will bring world-class artists, scientists, researchers, students and community members together in a new economic and cultural magnet for the town, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said.

The public will be able to join artists-in-residence and others as they explore new works and new ideas, said Carolina Performing Arts Executive Director Emil Kang. The center will build on the Arts@TheCore initiative, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded project that integrates arts with the university’s teaching, research and public service missions.

Carolina Performing Arts brings arts, music, dance and theater to the campus and community with master classes, performances and conversations. The recently announced lineup for the 2015-16 season includes violinist Gil Shaham, visual artist David Michalek, Memphis jookin’ dancer Lil Buck and singer-songwriter Abigail Washburn.

“Our plan is to launch The Core with a focus on integrating the arts, the sciences, technology and health affairs,” Kang said. “We are eager to experiment with ways that artists can provide a creative platform to interpret cutting-edge research for the public to experience.”

Folt said UNC is providing $4 million toward the cost to design, build, furnish and operate The Core. The total cost is expected to be more than $5 million, she said. Carolina Performing Arts will fund the rest.

Designs show a large lobby flanked by two flexible spaces: a 4,900-square-foot black-box theater and creative space with dressing rooms; and a 3,400-square-foot rehearsal studio. The theater is expected to hold at least 200 people, officials said.

The Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater at the Carrboro ArtsCenter, by comparison, is 6,000 square feet and seats 355 people.

Carolina Square is the town-approved redevelopment plan for the former University Square, a nearly 50-year-old shopping center and office complex at 123 W. Franklin St. at the entrance to the university campus.

The private Chapel Hill Foundation Real Estate Holdings Inc. owns the land and is leasing it to Cousins Properties for the $120 million residential, retail and office project. Carolina Square will have two five-story buildings and one 11-story building at its core and is expected bring up to 1,000 jobs and 400 new residents downtown.

The latest plan includes 246 apartments, 200,000 square feet of office and retail space and 880 parking spaces, company officials said. UNC will lease 62,000 square feet of office space for the Carolina Population Center and School of Public Health, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, they said.

Jeff Furman, vice president of development for construction and property management company Northwood Ravin, said they are leasing the retail space now. Demolition of the existing buildings started this year and the completed project could open by 2017, he said.

The community has been dreaming about a downtown performing arts center for some time, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said. The is a collaborative investment with UNC in the town’s place-making and economic development goals, he said.

Both town and gown have “well-earned reputations for being inclusive, exciting, vibrant locations that serve as destinations for people around the world,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it seems as if we’ve been part of the same place, but often serving off of different menus,” Kleinschmidt said. “We need to start serving off the same menu, because we’re really good at creating and nourishing soul-inspiring dishes.”

The arts center will be a “tremendous draw” and meet a lack of local entertainment options for adults, said Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Chapel Hill and Orange County Visitors Bureau. The average age of town visitors is 49, she said, and they are primarily couples from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia looking for arts and culture, food and walkability.

The project is not expected to compete with a future Cultural Arts and Innovation Center proposed for downtown Carrboro, Kleinschmidt said. Chapel Hill’s downtown, in many people’s minds, stretches from the Morehead Planetarium to Carrboro’s Town Hall, he said.

Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen could get an update in June about ongoing talks between town staff and the Kidzu Children’s Museum, ArtsCenter and Orange County Public Library. The working group is designing a public process to look at the potential for an arts center, officials said.

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