Gaillard Center moving forward but completion date not yet set

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says he will know by May 15 when the new Gaillard Center will hold it’s opening events.

The Gaillard Center already has booked more than 300 events, even though the new performing arts venue’s opening date remains uncertain.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said city leaders by May 15 will know when the building will be completed, and then will be able to announce the dates of opening events. The building faces three construction milestones in the next few weeks, Riley said. Once those hurdles have been cleared, officials will be better able to estimate a completion date.

The city broke ground on the $142 million renovation and expansion of the old Gaillard Municipal Auditorium in August 2012. Officials had said it would be completed by April 2015, in time for this year’s Spoleto Festival USA. But in July, they said the large, complicated project would take until at least the end of summer to complete.

Even though construction has been delayed, Riley said, the building and plans for performances and educational events are progressing.

Charleston City Council on Monday approved a contract with the nonprofit Charleston Gaillard Management Corporation, which will run the performance and education programs at the new facility. The document clarifies the city’s responsibilities and those of the Management Corporation.

Tom Tomlinson, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the group so far has 12 employees and is operating out of a temporary office on East Bay Street.

But already 316 events have been planned, he said, including performances by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and events for 2015 Moja Arts Festival and the 2016 Spoleto Festival.

Tomlinson said he will announce some time after May 1 who will perform at the center’s opening events.

And the group has begun raising money to support performance and education programs, he said. It has set a goal to raise $1 million in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Rick Jerue, the nonprofit’s director of education, said the center also will have an education component that focuses on involvement with local schools. Already plans are in the works for 12 events for children, including a magic show that helps children learn math skills, a performance of “Hamlet” and a presentation on the life of author Zora Neale Hurston.

City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson said she supports the project, but wants to make sure council is regularly updated on finances. She has asked city and nonprofit staffers for more information about the nonprofit’s budget and organizational structure.

The city previously ran the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, before it was closed for the upgrade, she said. And the auditorium often ran an annual deficit of up to $1 million.

She hopes the space eventually will become financially sustainable, she said, especially because in addition to performance space the center will have exhibit space available to rent. “Performance halls tend not to make money,” she said, “but exhibit halls can make a lot of money.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.