Ready to move ahead

Civic Arts Center plans finalized as new phase in fundraising begins

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

Grace McArthur remembers the Great Depression. She remembers Maryville College and the City of Maryville struggling through, with challenges both to the business community and the college student body.

"We survived," said Grace McArthur, a 1935 Maryville College grad and daughter of former Maryville College treasurer Fred L. Proffitt.

McArthur watched Tuesday night as final plans for a new vision that partners her college and her city -- along with others -- were presented to the community, an arts and cultural center that will sit on the campus at Maryville College but serve the whole community.

"I hope for big gifts," McArthur said, as she praised the vision of Maryville College president Dr. Gerald Gibson. The new Civic Arts Center will be for the whole the community, she said. "It will be a place that’s not just culturally acceptable, but outstanding in a very big way," she said. "Yeah, I’m concerned about raising the money, but I know the people will (contribute)."

McArthur was one of about 20 who came Tuesday night to the school’s Fine Arts Center to see finalized plans for the Civic Arts Center that will be built on the campus and hear about changes since it was first purposed and progress in the fund raising.

Jason McNeal, vice president of forward development, said the facility will be a premier showcase, highlighting the culture
of the region, as well as the culture of the nation.

Kevin Clayton, CEO of Clayton Homes, is leading the charge for the private fundraising, which has a goal of $25 million. The
entire project carries a price tag of $47.3 million. A little over $22 million has already been committed by the cities of Maryville and Alcoa, the federal government and the state of Tennessee. Private dollars are approaching $13.5 million from the college, individuals and businesses.

And, as soon as the last fiddle is put away at Steve Kaufman’s camp at the end of June, the destruction that precedes the construction will begin as the Fine Arts Center and Wilson Chapel come down. As those building fall into history, the fund raising for the new vision will reach a fever pitch.

A history
In 2006, Maryville College entered into a formal partnership with the cities of Alcoa and Maryville to construct a performing arts facility that will include a 1,200-seat performance hall, a 250-seat recital hall, a 200-seat flexible theater, a grand lobby and offer a 250-capacity dining area, three gallery/exhibit spaces and an outdoor arts plaza to be used for special events.

The City of Maryville agreed to contribute $9.38 million toward the project while Alcoa city leaders voted to give $3.75 million. Maryville College committed to working with Clayton and other members of the Civic Arts Center fundraising committee to raise $20 million in private dollars, in addition to donating the land where the facility will be located. Nearly $7 million in federal funds was secured and about $2 million in state funds were committed.

Planners had hoped for $x from Blount County to complete the partnership, but two contentious votes by County Commission saw the motion for funds fail.

The original plan called for Blount County to participate in the project, which was projected to cost more than $50 million. The county was asked for $11.9 million.

The debate for and against county involvement was contentious. The County Commission vote fell in November of 2005 in a close vote. The proposal was resurrected for a February, 2006, vote in which commissioners Jeff McCall and John Keeble proposed using the county’s percentage of the hotel/motel tax to pay for their part of the partnership.

After much debate in a packed commission room, that motion also fell, this time by a margin of 11 to 9.

With state, federal and city monies on the table, the college and supporters forged ahead, initially scaling back some plans and modifying the art and recital hall.

When initial renderings and a site plan for the Civic Arts Center were unveiled to the public in May of 2006, the plans called for the art and recital hall to include new spaces added on to a renovated Fine Arts Center.

"After meeting with the architects, it became apparent that a brand new facility in that location would better serve the needs of the arts, the college and the community and would tie in better with the rest of the center aesthetically," said Gibson.

New changes, new costs
Mark Cate, vice president of advancement and finance, said it was during the past six months when not much was said about the project that the college realized the changes in the design were needed.

The changes added about $5 million to the amount of the project. "We realized our vision for the center was bigger than our budget," he said.

The college and Clayton committed to raising the additional $5 million. "The reason we did was that we knew it needed to be done right," Cate said. The additional $5 million pushed the total to $47 million.

Cate said the center will be worth the investment. "It’s something I think everyone will be proud of, and it will serve the college and the community for 50 plus years," he said.

Cate, who has been a major supporter and planner of the project, will leave Maryville College at the end of June to join Lawler-Wood, a Knoxville-based development company. Lawler-Wood was retained in April of 2005 to manage the Phase II projects of the Civic Arts Center.

Cate said the recital hall will be where the Fine Arts Center is now and the performance hall will be where Wilson Chapel is.

They will be connected by an arts plaza. "The middle is one of the neat things that came out of this. Kevin’s idea was to have an arts plaza," Cate said. "It will be a destination place and will be able to seat 400 to 500."

Cate said in many cases rooms in the facility have walls built within walls. "You learn why some of these facilities are so expensive is because of the acoustics," he said.

In addition, enough storage rooms can never be built. "We tried to build as much storage space as we could," Cate said.

Cate said workers would begin demolishing Wilson Chapel and the Fine Arts Center in July, and start construction in October. Plans are for the facility to be open for business in August of 2009. "We started conversations on this facility in 1999. It will have been 10 years with lots of ups and downs," Cate said. "A lot of people deserve credit for hanging in there. It’s hard for a community to envision this because the community doesn’t have anything like it. We’re really excited about the opportunities for festivals and the things that go with that."

Once open, a 30-person advisory board, composed of individuals from the college, Alcoa, Maryville and the community, will guide the center’s operation. Broadway shows, concerts by touring musicians and orchestras, traveling art exhibits, film series, children’s plays and presentations by nationally recognized speakers are just some of the types of events the center will accommodate, according to the college website.

While fund raising so far has been focused on gifts of greater than $100,000, McNeal said that in the near future donations of all amounts will be solicited. "In the next six to eight months, there’s going to be more community exposure in terms of fund raising," he said. "The timing is right to get this out to the rest of the community."

Community response
Mary Beth Bonneville of Maryville was in the audience and said she was looking forward to seeing more community theater. She grew up in a suburb of Oklahoma City and took part in 68 community theater performances in six years. She’s looking
forward to helping raise money for the facility. "I’m determined at this point," she said.

Administrators and interested community leaders are calling on others who will benefit from the Civic Arts Center to join the campaign. Fund pledges for the project are needed by this fall. On the website, Clayton said, "If we do not have the majority of the money committed at that point, then we will have to make changes to the size and scope of the facility."

McArthur compared the challenge of helping students attend school during the Depression with the challenge facing the college and community now. "The college worked hard to make sure every student who wanted to attend (Maryville College) could do so. It was carefully done, but no one was turned away. We’re at another place, a bigger place now," she said of the opportunity to build the Civic Arts Center.

McArthur said this is an opportunity for big givers and small givers. Bobilee Knabb Proffitt said folks shouldn’t think a $100 contribution isn’t good enough. "It all adds up," she said.

The community can watch the progress of the fund raising and get updates on the website, Those interested in donating should call 865-981-8200.

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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