CARY — Construction is well underway at The Cary theater, but the Town Council recently approved more spending for another piece of the town-owned arts venue.
The town will add $150,000 to the theater’s budget to install a food-selling area in the new building adjoining the renovated historic theater.
With popcorn, coffee, frozen drinks, food service equipment and a nacho station, the area will be a concession stand during performances and a “gathering place” during the day, according to town plans.
Spending on the “cafe” will again expand the theater’s $6 million budget, which has far exceeded early predictions. The concession stand was part of the original design for the theater, but was not funded until this month.
When the construction bid was awarded late in 2012, staff recommended that the town build the cafe later. A staff report estimated that the up-fit would cost $100,000; however, the report didn’t state clearly that the cost of the cafe wasn’t included in the project’s budget at the time.
The town’s goal in delaying the spending until now was to find cost savings, according to engineer Eric Simpson. Staff and council members hoped then that a private business would buy in to the cafe, covering some construction costs in exchange for the chance to do business in the new venue.
“We’ve been trying to find someone, but we haven’t been successful yet,” Simpson said. “We came to a point: We either do it or we don’t. Let’s go ahead and get this in there so we can have a little bit better service.”
The town also hopes that a finished cafe will attract a concession vendor. Though it doesn’t have one yet, staff believe a third-party company would run the first-floor concessionary at no cost to the town. If not, the town could staff the stand itself.
Besides typical theater fare, the facility also will sell pre-packaged sandwiches and beverages, including alcohol. There are no current plans for a full-service restaurant.
‘Caught off guard’
To pay for the addition, the town will take $150,000 from its general downtown fund. That money had been set aside in the recent budget season to finish the second and third floors of the theater expansion, according to staff.
With the approval of the cafe spending, the theater’s budget now is about $6.15 million. Elected officials and town management have acknowledged that the project has far outstripped initial cost estimates, and they’ve promised better budgetary practices for projects.
“We were caught off guard by the overages and the mistakes that were unfortunately made,” said Councilwoman Lori Bush.
However, Bush said she was not surprised by staff’s recent request for extra money. She and other council members were told last year that they might need to approve more spending for the concession area up-fit.
Councilman Don Frantz said he expected the town to find a third-party partner to defray the cost, acknowledging that the project suffered from unclear predictions of cost.
“I think they could have done a much better job of forecasting, planning for costs, ultimately what they’d have to do,” Frantz said of staff. “When we consider a project, we want to know total cost – we don’t want to know initial cost.”
The council approved the extra spending unanimously and without comment at its meeting Aug. 8.
“I would rather have one part of the theater complete and ready for citizens to use, than to have a thrown-up table with a skirt” for food, Bush said. “If we’re going to do something, let’s do part of it right, and then we’ll see what we need for the rest of the building.”
The town has no current plans to finish the second and third floors of the theater expansion. The renovated building and the first floor of the expansion are set to open this fall.
Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary