A proposal for a new Arts & Innovation Center in Carrboro brought out more people than expected to a couple of public information sessions at the Arts Center this week.

“There’s $22 million during the construction phase of the project of local economic impact,” said architect Phil Szostak, who also serves on the board of the Carrboro ArtsCenter. “The new Carrboro Arts & Innovation Center will have a $4.26 million economic impact, based on just the 200,000 people that we’re bringing in today.

“And then the hotel will have a five-and-a-half-to-six-and-a-half million-dollar economic impact. So if you look at those two projects together, it’s about a $10 million economic impact.”

Speaking to WCHL on Wednesday night after a community forum at the ArtsCenter, he repeated an estimate of the annual economic impact of a plan to build an Arts & Innovation Center on the corner of Main and Roberson, now occupied by a gravel lot on land owned by East Main Partners.

The building would be the new home of ArtsCenter, as well as the Kidzu Children’s Museum, which is now located at University Mall in Chapel Hill.

In return for East Main Partners donating that land to the town, the ArtsCenter would swap its building at 300 East Main, allowing the Hampton Inn to build a second hotel there.

Szostak, along with Arts Center chairman Jay Miller and Kidzu co-founder Jonathan Mills answered questions about the project from about 30 citizens on Wednesday night. According to Mills, a surprising number of people also showed up for two previous forums regarding the plan.

“Both the meeting last night with the local business community, and the meeting the week before with the arts community were dramatically more attended than we expected,” said Mills.

Citizens voiced opinions and asked questions about topics ranging from green building practices, to the possibility of adding condos to the project. One person in the audience suggested affordable housing for artists. Another suggested using part of the space for town government meetings.

Szostak answered one person’s question about any possible tax burden.

“We’re asking for 80 percent of the new hotel’s tax that is generated,” said Szostak. “That’s all new money. It’s not going to happen unless we move and do this building.”

Another purpose for these recent public forums is to encourage citizens to attend next Tuesday’s hearing at the Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting.

Alderperson Bethany Chaney has publicly voiced her skepticism. She referred to Szostak’s recent comment that the Arts and Innovation Center can do for Carrboro what the Durham Performing Arts Center has done for downtown Durham. Szostak is the developer of DPAC.

Chaney countered that Carrboro is not Durham. Szostak said it recalls an argument he’s heard before.

“You know, when we did Durham, everybody was saying, ‘We’re not Raleigh,’” said Szostak. “And look at Durham now… number three in the country, sixth in the world selling tickets. If I would have told the City Council over there that Durham was going to sell more tickets than New York City, what would happen?”

He clarified that he’s not suggesting that the CAIC will match the $25 million impact of DPAC in Durham.

“But it’s going to have an economic impact, pretty much on the same scale,” said Szostak. “You know, we’re talking about four-and-a-half million dollars, or 10 million dollars from the hotel. We’re going to have a huge impact on Carrboro.”

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting is at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Carrboro Town Hall.