Greensboro, North Carolina

Building a Center for the Performing Arts

The Challenge

In 1945, the Greensboro City Council voted to issue war bonds to build a new auditorium in honor of its returning war veterans. After 10 years of debating its location, a site on the county fairgrounds, outside the central business district was selected. In 1959, War Memorial Auditorium opened. It was a 2,400 seat auditorium considered to be a premier venue in the Southeast and served in that capacity into the 1980s. By the late 1990s however, War Memorial was in need of significant repairs and had lost its competitive advantage to newer, modern facilities. A report commissioned by Action Greensboro in 2004 determined the facility needed to be replaced but the community was split on the purpose and location (existing location vs. downtown). In 2006, a $30 million bond referendum to renovate the existing facility was placed on the ballot and failed. A second bond referendum of $50 million to build a new facility on the existing site was placed on the ballot in 2008 and again failed. In the fall of 2011, City staff proposed another effort to construct a new $40 million facility on the existing site funded through a $30 million bond referendum and $10 million from hotel/motel taxes. The private sector was not significantly involved in any of the proposed efforts.

The Approach

In January 2012, the Mayor and City Council, in response to City staff’s recommendation, asked the Community Foundation to convene a community-wide task force to study the economic feasibility of building a new performing arts center, the economic impact of a downtown location, the business model necessary for successful operations, and how to finance its construction. An 82-member task force was created representing all segments of the community, including proponents and opponents to the project. A professional, objective analysis of the community’s performing arts needs was undertaken and public input sessions that convened businesses, citizens, and local arts groups were held. The findings were used to develop community-based recommendations to City Council.

Phase I: Research, Analysis, and Community Engagement

Phase I of the project was privately funded and involved thousands of citizens. All meetings were open to the public and media coverage was extensive. It evolved into one of the largest community conversations in the City’s history. It was determined that there was strong demand for a new, multi-use facility in central North Carolina; there was huge opportunity for first-rate productions; it should be run in partnership with the Greensboro Coliseum staff for economies of scale; and it needed to be a public-private partnership, with at least $20 million of the $60 million budget to be raised privately. Another significant finding revealed the fragile arts “system” and the importance of leveraging a new facility to help stabilize it.

Phase II: Governance, Financing, Site Location, and Fundraising

The second part of the project, Phase II, provided an analysis of the potential sites in the central business district, a detailed business plan, including governing structure, and a revenue model based on a public-private partnership with no impact on property tax rates. Phase II was equally funded by the City and the Community Foundation (representing the private donors).  The Community Foundation took the lead in raising private contributions now totaling $35.4 million.

The following milestones outline the pathway to success of this approach

January 2012: City and Community Foundation create Task Force. Findings from the Task Force, significant community support for the project, and high demand for a multi-use facility support need for a 3,000 seat venue that would cost $60 million and $20 million will need to be raised privately.

June 2012: Phase I recommendations to the City recommending building a new $60 million multi-use facility in downtown; $20 million will be raised privately. City Council expands charge to Task Force for Phase II.

November 2012: Phase II recommends preferred site, public revenues generated from user-fees of $20 million; no direct impact on property tax rates. The gap of $20 million will be determined from other sources

February 2013: City Council formally approves the use of hotel/motel taxes, parking revenues, and a ticket-fee for the first $20 million committed to the project. City Council challenges the Community Foundation to secure private commitments of $20 million.

August 2013: Community Foundation announces firm pledge commitments exceeding $20 million, contingent upon the facility being located downtown, all task force recommendations being implemented, and the project being fully-funded.

September 2013: City purchases $11.4 million of property to secure the premier location; on-site parking revenues will fund the purchase, which fills $10 million of the $20 million gap. The City’s commitment to the project is $30 million.

September 2013: Community Foundation announces largest gift to date of $7.5 million from Steven Tanger to name the building bringing total contributions to $27.5 million. Tanger issues community challenge to match his gift by year-end, which sets new fund-raising goal of $35 million.

December 2013: Total project budget of $65 million exceeds initial goal of $60 million. Community Foundation announces $35.4 million has been raised.

March 2014: The City and Community Foundation agree on comprehensive Memorandum of Agreement that details governance, financing, and operations. A $1.00 ticket fee is implemented to support all arts groups.

June 2014: Private financing is secured; contracts are approved; ground-breaking scheduled. Opening estimated to be mid-2016.

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