Applause for the Gaillard

An invitation-only audience got an early look at the new Gaillard Center Performance Hall in August, where their presence made them an important part of an acoustic tuning concert in the still-under-construction facility. (Wade Spees/File)

For decades, the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium was where people went to attend a concert, play or ballet.

The new Gaillard Center, itself a work of art, is where people will want to go. Period.

It’s a sure bet that the people who attend tonight’s fund-raising concert featuring Yo-Yo Ma will be impressed.

The performance hall is elegant, with three levels of box seats, columns designed with a palmetto motif and subtle design elements suggesting sweetgrass baskets and Carolina Jessamine.

Acoustically, it has the bells and whistles experts promise will make it excellent.

While it incorporates a remnant of the 1968 Gaillard Municipal Auditorium performance hall, the transformation looks almost complete.

Before guests get to the performance hall, however, they already will have insights into the reason Mayor Joe Riley and philanthropist Martha Rivers Ingram took on the $142 million project.

The main floor has elegant marble floors. The fixtures were designed for the building. The walls are a glassy smooth Venetian plaster and handsome millwork is used throughout the building.

Then there are the subtle features. The shape of musical instruments are incorporated in the restroom floor tiles. And thin black lines of horizontal tiles on the walls suggest musical scores.

One thing that makes the Gaillard Center different from most performance venues — something that drew criticism in the initial planning stages — is that it also houses city offices. The stated reason for their being included is that the city would save on rent, and city functions would be consolidated and more efficient.

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But in addition, it is a way to expose people without performance tickets to the stunning building — and to allow them to do their city business in a more user-friendly, one-stop way.

Further, people who don’t set foot in the Gaillard Center at all still can enjoy the public garden that stretches from the building to Calhoun Street.

The center also includes a large ballroom for exhibits and receptions, rooms for functions with smaller guest lists and a grassy terrace for outdoor events.

Planning for the center took four years. Construction took three, including a delay when old graves were discovered on the site. Neighbors in Ansonborough, who endured years of noise, dust and congestion, were frustrated. People expressed sticker shock at the cost, and fund-raising fell short of expectations.

But the citizens who do business in the center, the concert-goers who experience the performance hall and all those who stroll past the handsome Neoclassical building and landscaped garden are likely to say the Gaillard Center will prove worth the challenges to bring it to completion.

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