Augusta can support a top performing arts center

Here’s something that might surprise you. In its 2011 listing of the top 200 worldwide theatrical venues, Pollstar magazine – the leading industry authority on the subject – ranked the Durham Performing Arts Center as the fourth-best-attended theater in the world.


Surprising? Not if you had witnessed the profound transformation this extraordinary theater has brought to Durham, N.C., in just the past four years. As the team leader of the design, development and management team that helped create DPAC, I’ve been fortunate to partner with the city of Durham in realizing the promise of this project, from its earliest inception to its current stature as an unparalleled cultural and economic dynamo for central North Carolina.

Could the same experience be repeated in Augusta? Based on the success of our work in Durham, we would say, without hesitation: “Yes. Absolutely. Yes!”


IMAGINE, RIGHT here in Augusta, a strikingly intimate theater, perfectly tuned to the needs of touring Broadway companies and national music acts. Imagine sold-out performances for shows such as Wicked or Phantom of the Opera, playing in the heart of downtown and drawing thousands of visitors to Augusta from throughout the Georgia/South Carolina region.

Imagine a possible educational partnership with the city’s forthcoming combined university. Imagine the impact such events would have on the civic, cultural and economic vitality of Augusta. Imagine all this and more, serving as a vital catalyst to the growth and development of a brighter, more vibrant downtown Augusta.

Some might think so bold a vision far-fetched, just as citizens of Durham once thought a few years ago. “Too expensive,” said some. “There’s no market for another theater in our community,” claimed others. “A new theater will drain ticket sales from local venues,” worried many.

And yet, given persistence, hard work and the guidance of a skilled management team, Durham built and opened the DPAC in late 2008 to rave reviews, outstanding community support and an immediate economic shot-in-the-arm that in four short years has completely transformed Durham’s central business district.

The story of Durham Performing Arts Center’s success – beyond its enviable Pollstar ranking – is more than evident in the sheer numbers it has put up to date:

• In the fiscal year ending in June 2011, DPAC attracted over 400,000 guests for 200 events – including 61 sellouts – generating gross revenues of $24 million and a net profit of $2.9 million, all amid our nation’s deepest recession in 80 years.

• More than $2.5 million in profits have been returned to the city of Durham under a revenue-sharing agreement with the theater’s operator, Nederlander Producing Company of America.

• Local direct spending by visiting performers, crew and out-of-town patrons is estimated at $11.1 million, including 15,000 additional overnight lodgings for Durham ’s hospitality market.

• The total annual economic impact of DPAC is estimated to be approximately $25 million annually. Ancillary development spurred by the theater is projected to total over $300 million in the coming decade.

Numbers aside, the most important contribution of DPAC to Durham has been an unprecedented transformation of the city’s image. Once thought of as a gritty manufacturing town, known primarily for its tobacco industry, Durham is fast becoming recognized as an important regional center of performing arts and culture.

Most recently, The New York Times named Durham as one of the nation’s top 41 places to go, a citation due in no small measure to the cultural renaissance prompted by DPAC’s success.


BUT HAS DPAC’S success cannibalized ticket sales to other long-standing Durham theatrical venues? Not in the least, according to Bill Kalkhof, executive director of Downtown Durham Inc. “There was a great concern that DPAC would kill the Carolina Theatre,” Kalkhof said, referring to the 85-year-old, 800-seat hall six blocks north of the new performing arts center.

“Exactly the opposite has happened.” Carolina Theatre executive director Bob Nocek agreed, citing a cooperative marketing agreement between DPAC and the Carolina that promotes the benefits of both venues to the public while avoiding the booking of
competing acts. The relationship has become a wonderfully symbiotic one that has in fact broadened the community’s taste for theatrical presentations, rather than ration it.

This project would be an extraordinary opportunity for Augusta, not only for the further enrichment of its cultural life but also for its economic prosperity far into the future.

Could it be done in Augusta? You bet it can, if Durham’s experience is any indication. All that’s needed is hard work, careful planning and, above all else, the imaginative vision to bring a new Augusta theater to fruition.


(The writer is a North Carolina architect and entrepreneur, recognized as a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a recipient of the 2009 Kamphoefner Award, North Carolina’s highest honor for design excellence.)


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Local area growing together

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Initial reports often wrong

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There’s no cutting kiddie corners

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Bottom line