With construction to begin in August, the Gaillard Center will open in early 2015. This center will contain one of the finest, most beautiful, acoustically superior performance halls in America.
Following the restoration of the Dock Street Theatre (2010) and the adaptive renovation of Memminger Auditorium as a flexible performance space (2008), the world-class performance hall contained in the overall Gaillard Center will complete the final piece in Charleston’s world-class performing arts infrastructure.
Since Charleston City Council authorized this project on June 15, 2010, nearly $13 million has been spent (one-half private funds and one-half public funds) for design, engineering and project management. The full construction contract will be awarded this summer. In other words, the Gaillard Center project is well under way. It was begun only after many public meetings and input from hundreds of citizens and many interested groups.
The economics of the Gaillard Center are unquestionably sound. For a public investment of $71 million, our community will gain a world-class performance hall, a fully-renovated state of the art exhibition and banquet facility, a much-enhanced public green space providing daily benefits to the community and to the children of Buist Academy, plus a more economical and functional municipal office building that will provide convenient and efficient service to our citizens and those doing business with the city.
The Gaillard Center will be done without raising taxes. The city’s portion of the project is from Tax Increment Financing and other revenue sources which will not affect property taxes. The low public cost of the Gaillard Center is due in part to the generosity and vision of private donors, with the commitment to match the $71 million in public funds with $71 million in private philanthropy. This is a partnership that is unprecedented in our community, where 50 percent of a public facility will be paid for by the private sector.
Economically, the impact of this redevelopment will be substantial — $39 million a year and 390 new jobs. Completely renovated exhibition and banquet facilities will provide 25,000 square feet of functional, flexible and handsome space for community use, creating new possibilities for the city’s residents and visitors alike.
The beautifully renovated performance hall will offer extraordinary performance opportunities and experiences for citizens of our region and performers alike and will greatly benefit our diverse arts groups. School children from all across the region will have access to the one of the very best performance halls in America, which will offer them life-shaping experiences.
There was a suggestion in a recent op-ed column that the Gaillard Center project be abandoned for a new, not precisely defined site, which the city does not own, on the waterfront next to the cruise terminal.
There are many things wrong with this idea. One is that an approach like this would probably conservatively cost an additional $100 million which is not attainable from the city or private sources. It is also fiscally irresponsible to suggest that the city abandon this project after $13 million has been spent.
Finally, there are a host of other wise city planning and urban design reasons that it isn’t a good idea as well. Conversely, the Gaillard Center as it is being designed is fully in agreement with the city’s Preservation Plan and the design achieves the quality and sensitivity necessary to advance the continuity, economic vitality and livability of our city. Therefore, we are proceeding to build something world class that has been vetted by many public meetings over nearly a two year period. The only prudent course of action now is full speed ahead to achieve something wonderful for all the citizens of this region.
The Gaillard Center is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which will create a vibrant public place — a hub of artistic, educational and civic activity. It will bring additional revenues to the city, save taxpayers money and — because of its unique timing — do all of this at a moment when construction costs are most advantageous.
This has been and continues to be the right project, in the right location, for the right price and with all the right partnerships already in place.
Joseph P. Riley Jr. is mayor of Charleston.