The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday May 19th

Carrboro eyes new arts center

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss a proposal for a 55,000-square-foot facility in downtown Carrboro in a parking lot across from the Armadillo Grill.

The hearing was one in a series of public input meetings held by the town to get feedback on the plan.

The building would house two nonprofits in the community, The Carrboro ArtsCenter and Kidzu Children’s Museum, while still being owned by the town.

Philip Szostak, an architect who is also on The ArtsCenter board, presented a possible design for the building that includes three theaters.

“This whole project has a $10 million economic impact that would be brought downtown on Main Street,” Szostak said. “The construction cost on the project is $12 million plus $3 million on exhibits.”

The ArtsCenter is currently located at 300 E. Main St. If the organization vacates its current space, a new hotel — neighboring the Hampton Inn & Suites that opened in 2013 — could be built in its place, which would generate further economic boosts, Szostak said.

“I think (the Arts and Innovation Center) would be a lot of value to the community to the question of whether it’s an appropriate place and building and the cost associated with it,” Alderman Sammy Slade said.

“I do want The ArtsCenter to continue somewhere downtown to the degree that it could (partner with) Kidzu.”

The town would finance a large part of the building costs, up to about $4.5 million of the $12.1 million construction costs, while the two nonprofits would raise funds for the rest.

Dick Bircher, a Carrboro resident, said he worries about traffic, noise and parking.

“There is a cost to being cool,” Bircher said.

But Roy Campbell, a resident who oversaw the building of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, expressed concerns that the town was getting too wrapped up in the issue of parking.

Alderwoman Bethany Chaney said she can’t support the plan right now.

“It bundles too many complicated issues together,” she said.

Chaney said she worries about tailoring the building to businesses that may not be viable in the long term.

“I think one of the big points to make is that neither of the organizations that have said that they want to collaborate with each other on this building have short or long-term business plans that they’ve been willing to share with the board,” Chaney said. “I don’t think that it’s right for the town to take the risk of owning a $12 million property if one or more of the partners failed in the next five years.”

She said The ArtsCenter, for example, has a reputation for losing money.

But Jay Miller, chairman of The ArtsCenter’s board of directors, said the center is in fine financial condition.

“We’ve had down years,” he said. “We got hit by the recession just like everyone else.”

Pam Wall, the executive director of Kidzu Children’s Museum, said she’s also optimistic about her business.

“Kidzu has been looking for a permanent home for a number of years, and I’m very positive about the opportunity to share a beautiful new building with another arts organization that is very compatible with what Kidzu does,” she said.

Wall said Kidzu is expecting around 100,000 visitors in 2015 and could be an economic generator if located in downtown. The museum is currently located at University Mall.

“History has shown that our visitors come to the museum with coffee in their hand and a snack, and when they’re ready to go, they might stop by a local restaurant or go grocery shopping before heading home,” Wall said.

Kevin Benedict, a partner in Main Street Properties, said Main Street Properties currently owns the lot that the Arts & Innovation Center would be built on.

“We have offered to make sure the lot is part of the solution — despite moving pieces in the plan right now,” he said.

Carolina Performing Arts will also be involved in using the new space, said Mark Nelson, spokesman for CPA, in an email.

“We are excited at the prospect of enlarging our outreach and arts education capacity by working in collaboration with the ArtsCenter and Kidzu,” he said.


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