On August 1st, the Town Board unanimously voted to move forward on a full design for the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center. The process of choosing the partial design is the culmination of a year of research, design work and public input. The proposed partial design is below.
In May 2015, the Town of Fuquay-Varina purchased the former Stars Theater, a 150 seat private theater located at 123 E. Vance Street in downtown Fuquay-Varina, with the goal of restoring the building to serve primarily as a theater with ancillary arts programming.
Szostak Design, Inc., which has an impressive resume of design work including the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC), was awarded a contract in November 2015 to provide design and engineering services to redesign the 11,500 square foot building that was originally constructed in 1946 and is remembered by many as the former Belk’s department store.
From January to March 2016, a series of five public input meetings were held. The findings from these meetings indicated a strong public preference for a theater with flexible seating; an area to display art as well as host visual arts classes; and a space for dance classes and performances. In May, Maureen Daly joined the Town as the Director of the Arts Center. She has managed several performing arts organizations including the Twin Cities Stage, the oldest performing arts organization in Winston-Salem, and Rocky Mount’s Imperial Centre.
Szostak presented three partial designs at the August 1st meeting. All three schematics featured a 294 fixed-seat theater however the preferred configuration allows for an additional 110 non-fixed seats, as necessary, increasing the theater’s capacity and flexibility. The preferred plan includes many features the public indicated as important.
The partial design of the preferred schematic expands on the original footprint of the building by more than 60% increasing the size of the building from 11,358 to 18,684 square feet. Town Manager Adam Mitchell said, “The proposed partial design provides a more favorable cost per square foot ratio by expanding the existing footprint of the building and providing a substantially larger facility with more amenities.” Funding for construction of the adopted plan will come from the general fund and not increased taxes. “Community growth provides us the ability to afford this quality of life amenity that will bring so much to our community,” said Mitchell.
Highlights from the preferred design include a 294 fixed seat theater with expandable seating for hosted events, several classroom spaces that accommodate a multitude of arts programming, a dance studio and a gallery to display visual arts. Director Maureen Daly said, “The chosen design allows us to embrace all the arts in some manner. In the near future, we will be engaging with the community to have open conversations about programming that could take place at the arts center.”
As a result of the building expansion, parking spaces will be lost in the existing parking lot behind the arts center. The Town has hired Carl Walker, Inc., a parking consulting and engineering firm specializing in parking planning, parking engineering, and parking structure design, to help the town pinpoint the parking challenges facing our growing community. Carl Walker will work with the Town to identify and implement the best downtown parking policies and investments that will help the Town achieve its downtown development goals. The Town believes it is important to undertake this comprehensive downtown parking study in tandem with the design of the Arts Center to support the public and private investment taking place in our downtown and help align parking demands with the Town's larger strategic downtown development goal to leverage large-scale private mixed-use downtown.
The Town of Fuquay-Varina continues to significantly invest in downtown Fuquay-Varina. Casey Verburg, the Town’s new Downtown Development Coordinator began in mid-July. In her role, she will focus on small business and mixed use development to help revitalize and redevelop Fuquay-Varina’s downtown districts. According to Jim Seymour, Economic Development Director for the Town, and the UNC School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative, the new Arts Center will have a significant and positive economic impact on existing downtown businesses and future business recruiting and mixed use development efforts.
The next phase of the project includes complete architectural designs and construction documents before the project can officially begin construction, which is anticipated to commence in February 2017. Officials expect construction to take approximately one year to complete.