After the town rejected a proposal for a $13 million arts center last year, commissioners endorsed an arts center design Monday that strikes a compromise between the large scale of that vision and the more budget conscious $2 million renovation project that was approved instead.
The vote to buy the former Stars Theater and Arts Center in May 2015 succeeded by a narrow 3-2 margin. But the design proposal adopted at the town board’s Aug. 1 meeting for the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center passed unanimously.
The project now includes a new two-story theater wing tacked onto the back of the existing structure on the corner of Vance Street and Fuquay Avenue. The older building will contain classroom space, art galleries and a dance studio.
Construction costs are now estimated to be about $3.5 million, or roughly $427,000 more than the $3.1 million set aside for the project in the budget ordinance passed in June.
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The town board also agreed to an accelerated development schedule that will allow the arts center to open by January of 2018, two months earlier than scheduled, if everything goes according to plan.
Town Manager Adam Mitchell said the extra money for the project will come out of the approximately $1 million in extra revenue the town is expected to realize once it completes its audit of the 2015-16 fiscal year in the fall.
The plan selected is the most expensive of three presented by Szostak Design at Monday’s meeting, but its relative cost of $161 per square foot is by far the lowest of the plans.
The least ambitious plan, which would renovate the current structure, would come at a cost of $280 per square foot. Most commissioners said they are excited by the value available for an additional investment of less than half a million dollars.
“I came into it kind of thinking I wanted to stick with the current footprint, but it’s hard to ignore,” commissioner Charlie Adcock said. “I really like what you presented with adding the theater on the back, and if we look at the price per square foot and what we’re getting, it makes a lot of sense.”
A third option presented Monday is similar to what the board selected but doesn’t include a connecting section between the main building and the theater that would bring the green room and box office directly adjacent to the theater, freeing up more space for other uses in the existing structure.
The choice to build the theater separately means the town won’t have to compromise with respect to classroom and dance space, which would have been severely limited had the project been approved at the price point the town budgeted for. That design would have squeezed a 300-seat theater into the existing building, with minimal space upstairs for the practice and instruction of dance, the visual arts and music.
Phil Szostak, who gave Monday’s presentation, said the relative savings associated with building a new theater are associated with the cost of gutting parts of the historic structure to make room for a two-story theater and bringing the result up to fire code.
The new theater wing will come at the expense of some parking, although town officials already had anticipated almost all theater attendees using off-site parking. Szostak said the proposed design, which will start with 294 seats, could be expanded to 404 seats for conferences and speaking events if temporary seating is added to the wings of the proposed stage.
“It could be a wonderful opportunity for Fuquay-Varina to bring in (the state’s Main Street conference),” Szostak said. “They’ve said 400 is about where they need to be; they wouldn’t look at anything less than 400. The difference is what you call backstage versus seating area.”
Szostak emphasized the preliminary design’s inclusion of a glass exterior around the perimeter of the bottom floor, which would showcase the gallery space planned for the expansive lobby and, when lit up, help draw people to the venue during evening hours.
Approval of the arts center’s design and construction schedule represents an important step forward for the town, which hopes the building will anchor a downtown arts district, itself a major factor in efforts to revitalize Fuquay-Varina’s downtown.
“In the interest of appropriate decorum, I did not jump up and down when we approved the arts center,” Commissioner Marilyn Gardner said toward the end of Monday’s meeting. “But I felt it.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan