Study: Fuquay-Varina arts center would need private donors

aramos@newsobserver.comSeptember 9, 2013 

— The town would need help from private money to build an arts or convention center now, according to a recentstudy.

Consulting firm Hunden Strategic Partners presented its findings Sept. 3 to the Fuquay-Varina Board of Commissioners and Fuquay-Varina Downtown Revitalization Association’s Cultural Exploratory Committee. Both groups funded the $25,500 study.

Consultants considered at area supply, market demand, expenses and demographics.

With 20,000 people living within its borders, Fuquay-Varina doesn’t have the population to support a large performing arts or conference center – especially since so many venues are nearby, including the Raleigh Convention Center, Durham Performing Arts Center and The Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex, said consultant Eric Hunden.

However, there is a need in southwestern Wake County for a 600- to 1,000-seat multipurpose facility with a stage that could serve as both a performance venue and a meeting space, according to the study. Fuquay-Varina could build a facility that could serve the region, Hunden said.

No facility in Raleigh has between 800 and 1,700 seats. A Fuquay-Varina site could cater to those people who don’t want to drive to Raleigh for theaters, according to the report.

The study found that Fuquay-Varina would need a population of about 40,000 or more to make a large facility viable without outside dollars. The town isn’t expected to hit that milestone until about 2030 or 2040.

In the meantime, if the town does decide to move forward now with a private-public partnership, Hunden Strategic Partners recommends building a $39.6 million, 113,000-square-foot facility over three phases.

The first phase could be a 20,000-square-foot conference and banquet facility with a stage to be built in the next three to five years. It would cost about $7.5 million and need 3.6 acres and donated money. The price tag doesn’t include the price of land.

Phase II would be an $18.9 million, 800-seat performing arts center; the last phase would be a 120-room hotel, according to the study.

The cultural exploratory committee said the report is encouraging, and the group plans to appear before the town board Oct. 7 with its recommendations on how best to move forward, said Keith McCombs, chairman of the committee.

“If the private sector would get behind the initiative it would help move it forward sooner,” McCombs said. “We don’t see the town proceeding by themselves. They need to know that there is private support.”

Over the next month, the committee will brainstorm suggestions on how to get a public-private partnership going and how to fund the first phase, he said.

“We are encouraged by the report and the opportunities that the report spoke about,” McCombs said. “One of the things that it talked about was this gap that’s not being met. If we don’t address it, then someone else is going to capitalize on that gap. Why should it not be us? We’re not just talking about a facility for Fuquay-Varina. We’re talking about all of southwestern Wake County.”

The facility could also meet the needs of Fuquay-Varina’s burgeoning arts community. Over the past decade, art galleries, craft vendors, a new theater, monthly art walks and arts festivals have cropped up around town.

On Friday, the Fuquay-Varina Arts Council will host its annual Fall for the Arts from 5 to 9 p.m. downtown. The evening will include an artist and crafters’ market, live local music, a drum circle, activities for kids and more.

Denise Burnette, executive director for the arts council, said the feasibility study recommended a phased plan that made sense. Growing too fast might leave the town with an underutilized building, she said.

“As far as what our community can handle, there were a lot of words of caution,” she said. “They cautioned us as to how quickly and when and how much we can grow. We already have a small arts center (Stars Theater & Arts Center). We can build programming there so it’s so full that it’ll prepare for a larger facility.”

Ramos: 919-460-2609

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