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‘Carrboro Arts And Innovation’ Plan Raises Hopes and Questions

Carrboro Alderwoman Bethany Chaney says the idea of co-locating Kidzu Children’s Museum and the ArtsCenter is intriguing: “It’s a great concept.”

But she’s got some concerns about the plan.

“We potentially could be looking at a $4.5 million dollar investment in this property and that’s a lot of money for a building that’s essentially custom-built for two organizations that haven’t yet proven long-term sustainability,” says Chaney. “It’s a big risk so we need to hear from the public as to whether they think the potential benefits are worth that risk.”

Here’s how the deal might work: the ArtsCenter owns its building in the middle of the 300 East Main development. The Center is proposing a land swap with East Main Partners that would allow the Hampton Inn to build a second hotel on the site of the current ArtsCenter.

In return, the gravel lot at the corner of Main and Roberson would be donated to the Town by East Main Partners. Carrboro would construct an $11 million dollar facility to be leased to Kidzu and the ArtsCenter, with the town and the nonprofits splitting the cost.

You can read the full proposal here.

Phil Szostak is an architect, ArtsCenter board member and a leading proponent of the plan.

“We’re trying to put a project together for downtown Carrboro that will not require any additional taxes or use of any new city funds to fund the project,” says Szostak. “The project now is proposed to be 50-50 public-private partnership where our partnership would require The ArtsCenter and Kidzu and other partners to raise half the money before the project is started.”

Szostak is also the developer of the Durham Performing Arts Center. He says the Arts and Innovation Center can do for Carrboro what the DPAC has done for downtown Durham.

But Chaney notes Carrboro is a long way from the Bull City.

“I think it’s an entirely different scenario and Durham’s a much larger municipality, so that building can support a lot of different kinds of programming and at a higher price-point that what this building could support.”

Both Kidzu and the ArtsCenter are popular nonprofits looking to expand.

Kidzu has operated at a series of locations in Chapel Hill since opening in 2006. It is temporarily located at University Mall, where the museum expects to serve more than 100,000 visitors in the next year.

Last year more than 93,000 people participated in programs at The ArtsCenter but Szostak says the aging facility can’t support the growth of the organization.

“It’s very hard for us to expand. That building was originally done in 1987. We were meeting a demand then and we didn’t really have a lot of space to meet future demand. Now, 25 to 30 years later, we have a huge demand that we cannot meet. To go up in place would be almost impossible for us without shutting the ArtsCenter down for a year.”

And both groups say the Arts and Innovation Center would be a great fit for Carrboro.

“What we would really like the citizens of Carrboro to understand is there won’t be one penny that comes out of their personal pocket to make this center happen,” says Kidzu Executive Director Pam Wall. “It will generate a good deal of economic development and money coming into the Town of Carrboro because the folks that visit this center will go out to eat, they will be shopping and purchasing gifts and things like that. There’s a good amount of economic development that this center will create.”

But Alderwoman Chaney worries the plan wraps up too many complicated issues into one package.

“The proposal itself that we’ve been asked to consider bundles two really big decisions that need to be separated. Those are whether there should be a second hotel in downtown Carrboro and whether the town should invest in a building that would accommodate the ArtsCenter and Kidzu and potentially other nonprofit arts organizations.”

That second hotel is a key part of the co-location plan, as it’s envisioned to be the source of new revenues for the town.

“It’s really hard to separate the two, if in fact we are looking at the taxes generated by the hotel to be one of the funding sources,” says Szostac. “We don’t have to do that, but we can certainly make the case that if the ArtsCenter does not move, that hotel does not get built.”

Szostak estimates it could bring in as much as $550,000 in taxes to Orange County each year, enough to cover the debt service the town would need to pay to finance construction.

The question of whether Carrboro needs a second hotel is just one aspect Chaney would like to see fully explored when the concept comes up for a public hearing later this month.

“What I do worry about is whether the business model that’s being proposed is really the most appropriate one,” says Chaney. “Is it the most appropriate way to leverage public funding? I think that’s the big question.”

Read Chaney’s full statement on the plan here.

All parties agree that the upcoming public hearing is merely the starting point for discussion.

“Every project should be scrutinized. This is public money and the town fathers really need to take a look at this and get the input from the public,” says Szostac. “Certainly I wouldn’t even suggest doing it without that.”

Kidzu and the ArtsCenter will host a series of public information sessions this week. Carrboro business owners are invited to a session on Tuesday, January 13, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter. A session for the general public will be held on Wednesday, January 14, from 5:30-7 pm at the ArtsCenter.

A public hearing on the plan is schedueled for 7:30 on January 20 before the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. You can also submit comments to town leaders online here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/carrboro-arts-innovation-plan-raises-hopes-questions/

Nonprofits Want Carrboro To Collaborate On Arts Center

A trio of nonprofits wants to partner with Carrboro to build a four-story “Arts & Innovation Center” downtown.

The ArtsCenter and Kidzu are asking the Town of Carrboro to build a 55,000 square foot building across the street from Armadillo Grill to be known as the Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center.

The proposal calls for the lot at the corner of Robeson and Main Streets to be donated to the town, which currently leases the property for parking.

Carrboro would contribute $4.5 million of the $12.1 million construction cost for the building. Some of that money would be generated by a new hotel proposed for the site of the current ArtsCenter. The nonprofits would raise the rest through donations, foundations and grants.

Under the current plan the town would own the building and lease it to the three groups in partnership.

The Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the plan when meetings resume in January. The hearing is scheduled for January 20, 2015.You can find out more here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/nonprofits-want-carrboro-collaborate-arts-center/

Kidzu Changes Locations, But Keeps Its Promise

If ‘leapfrog’ is a popular kid’s game, then Kidzu Children’s Museum wins. Coming up on their 2nd move in two years, and still not at their final resting pad, this hot spot for families in Chapel Hill and Carrboro keeps getting bigger and better.

exhibit area-market angle

In September of this year Kidzu will be moving from their home at University Square to a larger space at University Mall (where the Library previously had temporary residence).

Kidzu Children’s Museum is being forced to relocate due to redevelopment plans for the building, scheduled to start at the end of 2013.  Yet while plans for the final home of Kidzu at Wallace Plaza are still on track and fundraising is going strong, the permanent space was never intended to be completed until 2016.

Instead of taking a hiatus Kidzu has decided to continue to do what it does for the community, even if it means two more moves in its future.

“We considered it a disservice to the community not to have a physical presence for families,” says Pam Wall, Executive Director of Kidzu.  “University Mall has been quite generous in working with [us]…This is really a gift for Kidzu.”

The temporary move to University Mall is being called the “Launch Pad Initiative.”  Moving in to this space will allow Kidzu to try out new exhibits, add to their permanent collection, and work out any kinks that might arise from staffing a larger facility before they move to Wallace Plaza.

exhibit area-construction angle

All the old exhibits that families have grown to love at Kidzu (including the ever-popular Gravitron) will make the move.  In addition, Kidzu is currently working with a design team to bring in new learning opportunities for children.  Plans include a large treehouse climber (the treehouse itself on loan from Morehead Planetarium).

The larger space will also allow Kidzu to offer more family programming and, while continuing to partner with The FRANK and Morehead Planetarium, Kidzu will be able to work with other Triangle area family favorites as well as host them on their own turf.

University Mall even has large, open community space that Kidzu will have available for its use.  In fact, they intend on taking advantage of that right away by working with the American Dance Festival this month.  ADF and Kidzu will be offering movement and dance seminars for children at the University Mall space in June (details can be found on Kidzu’s website).

Kidzu will remain open in its current location, University Square, all summer.  It will close for the move some time in September.

“We want people to come take advantage of the programming at University Mall [this summer] to see the space, get used to coming there, and to get as excited as we are,” Wall continues.  “Small is mighty, children are small, and children can be mighty when they have confidence, which learning through play provides.”

More learning through play will be available to Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s small and mighty children this fall.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/fifteen-five-o-mom/kidzu-changes-locations-but-keeps-its-promise/