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State Building Commission approves ETSU arts center budget

Nathan Baker • Jul 11, 2015 at 1:00 AM

Approving spending already set aside in Tennessee’s 2015-16 budget, the State Building Commission rubber-stamped the $40.6 million budget for East Tennessee State University’s fine and performing arts center project Thursday.

“It’s nice after 20 years of dreaming that everything is coming together for this facility,” ETSU Chief of Staff Jeremy Ross said. “We’re very excited with the progress that has been made on funding approval from the state, with the land acquisition process and with naming the firm that will design the facility.”

The approved budget includes $28 million from the state, $10 million expected in matching funds through the ETSU Foundation’s fundraising efforts and $1.5 million to come from the university’s plant funding, raised through fees charged for services to on-campus groups and clubs.

President Brian Noland still intends to seek funding from the Johnson City Commission to help increase the size of the main performance hall in the facility from the 750 seats approved by the state to 1,250 seats or larger, a project he said may take $6 million, but will pay off for both the university and the community in terms of new enrollment and economic development.

When completed, the arts center is also expected to contain a smaller recital hall, teaching and practice rooms and house an aerial dance program, a rare offering among other colleges in the country.

Ross said Thursday the push to secure the extra funding from the city was ongoing, but no date is yet set to speak with city leaders about the proposal.

The city and the university have already worked collaboratively in rounding up the needed land for the project, and in providing safe crossing of West State of Franklin Road, from the intended site of the arts center to the school’s main campus.

In March 2014, early on in the planning process, the City Commission promised to put up traffic lights allowing pedestrians to more easily cross West State of Franklin at the corner of ETSU’s new parking garage, if the arts center was built adjacent to the municipally owned Millennium Centre. That project was estimated by the city to cost $400,000.

Lot 1, the land beside the city’s convention center, was always the university president’s favored location for the new facility, and last month, the city’s Public Building Authority agreed to trade the parcel in exchange for a foot in the door for future reception business from the new center and the potential use of the large performance hall for hosting a new class of events.

Though certain city commissioners say the increase in revenue expected from a 2 percent hike in the hotel-motel tax isn’t yet designated for any one project, others have said the funding for the arts center may be a wise use of at least a portion of the money.

The next step for the center, Ross said, is deciding the scope of the facility, then working with chosen architect firm McCarty Holsaple McCarty, Inc. on the final design.

Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jcpressbaker.

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