Fayetteville residents now have a more detailed look at what is envisioned for the future of the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street.
Officials unveiled a new set of design renderings and discussed some specifics of a planned $20 million renovation of the arts center during a “happy hour” public input session held Tuesday evening.
For those who couldn’t attend the meeting, a second “lunch hour” session is set for Wednesday (Oct. 30) at noon inside the center’s McBride Studio.
The meetings are part of an ongoing campaign to gain public support for the Nov. 12 special election when residents will decide whether taxpayer money is used to help fund Walton Arts Center renovations and a planned regional park in southwest Fayetteville.
Voters will be asked to extend HMR bonds originally used to build the Fayetteville Town Center for one or more of the following:
1. Refinancing the $1.5 million in remaining debt, clearing the way for new bonds.
2. Issuing $6.9 million in new bonds to help fund Walton Arts Center expansions.
3. Issuing $3.5 million in new bonds to help fund the regional park.
The arts center would still need about $13 million in donations and other funds to complete the project. The Fayetteville Advertising & Promotion Commission gave $600,000 to the center in May to help fund the design of the expansion.
Michael Tingley, design principal of Boora Architects, gave an update on how the renovation plans are proceeding, and discussed three new design renderings that illustrate his firm’s vision for a new facade and entryway on Dickson Street, a larger lobby, and an expanded Starr Theatre.
Tingley said his goal when designing the project was to reinvigorate the arts center to better serve a city that has changed a lot since 1992 when the building was first opened.
A renovated campus, he said, would be more engaged with the vibrant life of the entertainment district, draw more people downtown, provide more opportunities for events, and allow the community to showcase its creativity.
The most obvious change will be a new main entryway to the facility.
With its unassuming, side-facing entrances, Tingley called the current Walton Arts Center “an anomaly” when compared with the other businesses along Dickson Street.
“It’s oriented at a 45-degree angle so it doesn’t really present a front door or an address on Dickson, or West Avenue for that matter,” he said. “The activity and the energy that happens inside the building is really divorced from the life on the street.”
The new entrance will face Dickson Street and will include an overhang that extends toward the sidewalk to create a more inviting atmosphere.
New lobby area
Besides having more visibility from Dickson Street, the current lobby area will be expanded and reconfigured to serve as an event space all its own.
Tingley said the lobby will include access to a new catering facility, and will provide enough room for dinner tables that can seat up to 300 people.
Also planned is a new built-in concession and ticketing center, expanded restrooms, and a reoriented staircase plan that will help unify the main and upstairs lobby areas.
“It’s going to be a much more friendly and accessible experience,” said Tingley.
Expanded Starr Theater and backstage area
Some of the least flashy parts of the renovation project are arguably the most important pieces of the overall puzzle, which is to add programming without building a new theater.
By expanding Starr Theater and building additional backstage space, Tingley said the Walton Arts Center will be transformed back to its original two-theater form.
Over time, audience expectations have led to an increase in production size which has created a problem for smaller performance complexes like the Walton Arts Center. A backstage that was once large enough for any touring production is now too small to hold all the gear required for larger performances.
Officials have complained for several years about the center’s cramped backstage which sometimes leads to the smaller Starr Theater being used as a dressing room for the main auditorium. Simply put, more backstage space means more programming in Starr Theater during weeks where large Broadway shows are in town.
Aside from being freed from its role as a storage unit, Starr Theater will be expanded from a 150-seat room to a 250-seat theater with retractable seats to allow for a broader range of events that cater to dance, music, education and more technical productions. It will also receive its own lobby and concession area, and a covered entryway that will present a new face and identity to the building’s West Avenue side.
Tingley said if the bond measure passes in November, the arts center will move forward to select a contractor in December. Final designs are expected to take several months to complete, with construction beginning as early as June 2014.
Construction would be broken into two year-long phases to allow the renovation to occur while maintaining operation of the arts center. Lobby work would start first, with backstage and Starr Theater construction coming next.
Tingley estimated the final completion date to be sometime in mid-2016.
“The Walton Arts Center has got some fundraising that they need to do in order to achieve the project and stay on this timeline, but the first thing is passing the bond measure,” said Tingley.