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ETSU unveils design, property for new arts center

Nathan Baker • Oct 29, 2015 at 7:28 PM

Like many massive things, East Tennessee State University’s proposed fine and performing arts center took a lot of effort to get off the ground, and once it started moving, it was slow-going, university Chief of Staff Jeremy Ross said.

“This has been talked about for 30 years, but now, in the last two-and-a-half years, it seems like it’s finally going to become a reality,” Ross said at an event Thursday at the Millennium Centre to unveil architect’s renderings of the building and to announce the transfer of the land needed for it.

Two years into local efforts to raise money for the 54,000-square-foot combination auditorium hall, recital venue and classroom building, and after a few missed rounds in the state budget, the Arts Initiative is only $2 million away from its $10.2 million local match goal.

“The challenge has been pretty heavy and hefty,” said Paul Stanton, the college’s former president and the chair of the ETSU Foundation’s Arts Initiative to raise money for the venture. “We still have a ways to go, but we wouldn’t have gotten started at all without the generosity of Jim Martin.”

Martin, who provided substantial financial support throughout the years for the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, which bears his wife’s name, kicked off the pledge drive two years ago with an initial donation of $3 million for the arts center.

The $40.6 million budget approved this year for the facility by the State Building Commission includes $28 million from state coffers, $10.2 million expected through the college’s fundraising efforts and $1.5 million from fees charged for university employees’ services to on-campus groups and clubs.

To build a larger main performance hall, with 1,200 seats, the administration asked the City Commission to contribute $8 million more. The proposal is still under consideration by city leaders, which both ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland and Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin mentioned in speeches at the event.

“The Commission decided, through the Public Building Authority, to gift the property needed for this facility, and we will extend the infrastructure needed for it,” Van Brocklin said. “The Commission continues to talk about whether further commitment will be possible.”

Both the university and the city believe the larger auditorium would help attract more prominent traveling acts, which could increase tourism, economic development and quality of life in the region.

“I hope the property and this building can become a centerpiece of the region,” Noland said. “It’s more than a building, I want to create a facility that gives the people of this region a place to celebrate the arts.” 

The plans, drawn by McCarty Holsaple McCarty Architects & Interior Designers, include a main performance auditorium with 750 seats, but Noland said, should the city contribute, “there is ample space for the central part to grow,” to add additional seating.

To be built in the “L” shape of the existing city-owned Millennium Centre, Noland said the proximity of the two buildings would allow them to “come together as one,” meaning receptions could be held in the Millennium Centre and catered by the kitchen staff, and large performances could follow next door at the arts center.

That expression may also mean more than simply cooperation, however, as city leaders and university officials continue talks proposing the transfer of the events and convention center to either the ownership or the management of ETSU.

The event Thursday also signified the acquisition of two properties needed to build the large center: the courtyard area outside the Millennium Center, owned by the city, and an adjacent field owned by Bank of Tennessee.

When built, the center will become the home of all of ETSU’s arts programs, including music, visual and other performance-related programs. An aerial dance program, recently initiated by the university, will especially benefit from the new spaces.

Email Nathan Baker at nbaker@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jcpressbaker or on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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