Fuquay-Varina’s new arts center is expected to exceed the budget first set aside for the project by more than $1 million.
The Town Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Feb. 21 to approve spending $3.8 million toward the facility’s construction – overhauling and expanding the existing Stars Theater – and related expenses.
Of the money approved in a project ordinance, $3.61 million was awarded in a construction contract to Daniels & Daniels Construction Co. for the facility’s remodeling and expansion. The renovated arts center is expected to open in the spring of 2018.
In May 2015, when the town first announced its intentions to renovate the building as a town-run arts center, construction was anticipated to cost between $2 and $2.5 million.
The price tag increased to $3.5 million – the design experts’ estimate – in August when the board approved the final design. That was an increase over the $3.1 million designers predicted in May 2016.
Bids for the project initially came in well over the $3.5 million price tag. Daniels & Daniels’ bid, the lowest received, was initially for $4.14 million. Town Manager Adam Mitchell said designers and town officials were able to work with builders to bring that number closer to the $3.5 million estimate.
“One of the big savings was we were planning to replace the entire roof structure on the existing building,” Mitchell said. “And while that is ideal, it’s not necessary, because much of that roof is in good shape right now. That was in itself about $100,000 in savings.”
More savings will come from sourcing the building’s furnishings directly rather than through Daniels & Daniels’ contract, Mitchell said.
“Bids for this project were higher than anticipated, reflecting a general upswing in construction projects available to contractors and subs in our area,” Mitchell said in a presentation to the board. “It is staff’s opinion that rebidding this project will not result in lower quotes and will only serve to extend the time frame in which the project can be completed and potentially raise the associated costs further.”
The town’s decision to purchase the Stars Theater building, at the corner of Vance Street and Fuquay Avenue, was a controversial one. Some town leaders and a committee created to advise the town pushed for Fuquay-Varina to partner with Bob Barker Co. on a larger, more-ambitious 136,000-square-foot facility downtown. But the board and town staff ultimately decided to buy the much smaller building, saying it could be expanded if demand was great enough but that they didn’t want to risk building too large of a venue that the small-but-growing town couldn’t yet fill.
Since then, the projected cost of the renovation has climbed steadily. That’s partly due to the area’s booming construction business, but also to the board’s decision to build an entirely new 300-seat theater structure in addition to renovating the original 11,500-square-foot building, which contained a 145-seat theater. That part of the building now will be used exclusively for other kinds of arts programming.
Despite that, the total cost for the arts center, including the $575,000 paid to acquire the Stars Theater Building, design costs, and other fees, comes out to $5.13 million. That’s a bit higher the $5 million the town committed to an arts center as part of its long-range plan, though that was before the town chose what building to renovate. Built into that figure is a $180,000 contingency budget, Mitchell said.
That same figure was what Bob Barker, president of Bob Barker Co., asked the town to contribute when he was trying to sway Fuquay-Varina into turning his property, an old warehouse, into an arts facility. He offered $1 million of his own money, with the remainder of the $13 million cost ideally coming from county tourism grants and private capital. The town opted for a smaller facility it said it was sure it could pay for and run competently.
Initial discussions between designers and Fuquay-Varina officials involved a review of those facilities and a debate about whether a town’s arts center should be sized to reflect existing demand for public art or the town’s ambitions for that demand.
Clayton, for instance, built a 600-seat auditorium in a former school building and has rented it out for business and private events as well as performances. For a time, some Fuquay-Varina leaders wanted a theater that size, too.
But Apex and Holly Springs’ arts centers both feature smaller theaters between 150 and 200 seats. Phil Szostak of Szostak Design, which designed the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center, said the Carrboro ArtsCenter – a former Piggly Wiggly – has discussed reducing its theater’s seating capacity from 350 to 200 to use often-empty seating areas as much-needed classroom space.
Ultimately, Fuquay-Varina’s 300-seat choice will fall somewhere in the middle.
“The 200- to 300-seat mark is exactly what it should be,” Fuquay-Varina Arts Center Director Maureen Daly said last year. “That will draw the kinds of shows the community would choose to go to. You’re not going to ask the national tour of ‘Wicked’ to show up, but you’ll get acts that are size-appropriate. “
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan