If you haven’t noticed, the Fayetteville Observer editorials, especially the one from April 14, lean favorably toward abandoning the Crown Theatre facility and building a new performing arts center downtown. The paper quotes Commissioner Jimmy Keefe when he says “... it needs to go in a place where it can enhance other accommodations and really amplify the food and beverage tax and the occupancy tax.”
Sounds like a wise plan to me.
On April 21, 2013, The Fayetteville Observer quoted Keefe when he said “It’s taxpayer money. We have a responsibility to ensure that the taxpayers who pay that .... are getting the best value for what that money is going toward.” He was talking about the benchmark study that the Civic Center Commission wanted to have done as we were trying to determine the next step for the Crown Center, as a whole. You really have the same question here, with maybe more than one answer.
Consider that the Crown Theatre is still a viable facility today. From July 2014 to March 2015, 45 events were held in the Crown Theatre with a total of 48,868 patrons attending those events. Consider also that the theatre has had substantial taxpayer money spent on it over the last few years to upgrade the lobby area and, most recently, new HVAC systems. These were major taxpayer expenses that shouldn’t be discounted.
There is constant whining that the Crown Complex is in the wrong place. Let’s get over it. We can’t move it so let’s work towards improving the area to make it more appealing. At least, at that location we have ample parking, a facility that the taxpayers already own, a management company running the shows and more. A new performing arts center downtown could lack all of this.
Does the city or county own a location downtown for this new center? Is there really ample parking within a reasonable distance for patrons to park and walk? How far do you really want to walk to get to an event? Is the infrastructure already in place for this new facility or will taxpayers have to start over and spend money to create it? Consider also, that just a short block away from the Crown Complex, Walmart is building a new store. This alone will change the face of the Gillespie Street area far more than anything government can do to improve it. Walmart brings other retailers and restaurants eager to follow in their footsteps. We need that in the Gillespie Street area.
So where does that leave things? Personally, I think we need to either expand and improve or rebuild the performing arts building where the Crown Theatre sits today.
The existing building can be expanded for more seating. The neighborhood will improve over the next few years from the new Walmart alone. Make the Crown Complex our local destination for entertainment in Cumberland County. More than 48,800 patrons have already have done that this last year alone. Make the new Crown Theatre a real FayPAC. One that rivals our neighbor to the north. While we are at it, let’s turn Festival Park over to Global Spectrum, the Crown’s management company, and have some outdoor concerts and other events on a regular basis, like Walnut Creek.
If the powers that be still think downtown is the place, we might also consider the existing AIT building. It is currently on the market, and already has a 350 seat auditorium on the ground floor. It is adjacent to a 400-space city owned parking area in the back. For $8.5 million it can be yours. Sounds like a good deal compared to the numbers we have heard.
As usual, we have too many choices and not enough money. After living in Fayetteville all my life, I would really like to see us plan for the future instead of retro-fitting after the fact because we didn’t plan. We are not too good at looking ahead.