A theater like Memminger Auditorium must provide space for patrons to gather and talk after a show, or it's failing in its jobs, says Nigel Redden, general director of Spoleto Festival U.S.A.
Right now, Memminger has no such outdoor gathering place. But that will change before the May 23 opening of Spoleto, when the city of Charleston completes improvements to Beaufain Street between Coming Street and Memminger Elementary School.
The improvements to Beaufain Street near the auditorium will help traffic flow better and make the area safer and more attractive, said Dustin Clemens, deputy director of capital projects for the city's Department of Parks. The project, which began in February, will cost about $1 million, he said. The money will come from the city through funds brought in by the King Street Gateway Tax Increment Financing District.
Making the road narrower, which will slow traffic.
Widening the sidewalk and creating a gathering place in front of the auditorium.
Improving pedestrian crossings.
Burying the electric and communication wires underground.
Replacing hanging traffic lights with decorative metal poles.
Planting several trees between Coming Street and the auditorium.
Landscaping the median between Beaufain and Market streets.
The improvements are important, Clemens said, because there is a tremendous amount of vehicular and pedestrian traffic traveling on Beaufain Street every day. The area is heavily used by theatergoers, students who attend Memminger Elementary School and their parents, and residents of Canterbury House. "We wanted to make the area easier to use."
The improvements also will enhance the auditorium and the school, "two big public assets," Clemens said.
The Spoleto Festival spent more than $6 million renovating the auditorium in 2008, he said. And the Charleston County School District last year replaced the old school with a new $22 million building, a project that included improvements to the sidewalk in front of it.
When the city completes the work on Beaufain, "there will be a nice-size plaza outside Memminger and the school." Clemens said.
That plaza, Redden said, "gives the building the kind of space a significant public building should have."
He also said the street improvements are the final piece to bring the auditorium to life. In the past, it was recessed and somewhat hidden, he said. But the new school building next door allows it to be more visible. "The new streetscape," he said, "allows the theater to breath in the front."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.