UPDATED: Fayetteville to discuss using city parking lot for new TheatreSquared facility

TheatreSquared officials want to expand from their current home into a new building to be built across the street on city-owned property currently being used as a parking lot.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

UPDATE: Aldermen voted unanimously to approve this proposal during the City Council meeting on Oct. 6.

Fayetteville aldermen will soon discuss selling or leasing a city-owned parking lot to TheatreSquared, a local nonprofit theater company that wants to use the land to build a new performance hall.

The 54-space municipal lot is located at the southeast corner of Spring Street and West Avenue, and is currently being used as a staging area for construction of a new downtown parking deck. The lot is across the street from Nadine Baum Studios, which TheatreSquared has leased for about a decade.

Martin Miller, TheatreSquared executive director, said while the 175-seat studio has been a great fit for the company for many years, with sold-out shows becoming a common occurrence, it’s time for an expansion.

“As one of the nation’s fastest-growing theatre companies, we have stretched the limits of the work we can create and the audience we can serve in our current space,” Miller said in an interview last week.

TheatreSquared formed a special community task force earlier this year to recommend a long-term facilities plan for the company. The group enlisted London-based theatre consultancy Charcoalblue to study and assess the company’s current space.

In August, the company and Fayetteville were awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to explore potential sites. About a month later, TheatreSquared was selected as one of the first projects for the Walton Family Foundation’s new Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program to help pay for architectural work on a new facility.

Miller expressed interest in the 0.8-acre parking lot in an Aug. 27 letter to Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan.

In his letter, Miller estimated the project would generate nearly $40 million in direct and indirect spending during the construction process alone, and said a new theater would nearly double the organization’s economic impact, which city staff have said is about $2.3 million per year.

“The outcome will be a truly world-class, locally programmed, nationally recognized arts destination in the heart of downtown Fayetteville,” Miller wrote. “Along with the renovations now underway at the Walton Arts Center, we see the emergence of a true performing arts district that advances the city’s Downtown Master Plan and defines our downtown as an arts destination for generations.”

Jeremy Pate, the city’s development services director, offered support for the proposal in an Aug. 28 city memo. Pate said the lot offers the size and proximity to public parking, the Walton Arts Center, Dickson Street, and other amenities that a downtown theater needs to thrive.

Pate said the plan is to first ask the council to sign off on the basic idea, and then bring back a negotiated agreement for final approval sometime in spring 2016.

“Staff fully supports this endeavor, as we believe the impact of an expanded, unique professional theater in the downtown can be a significant draw for tourism and economic development,” said Pate in the memo. “In combination with the Walton Arts Center expansion and the amenities that downtown Fayetteville has to offer, this facility, if fully realized, will add to the Northwest Arkansas region’s arsenal of cultural amenities, thereby fueling tourism and spending in our economies.”

Aldermen will consider the proposal at their next City Council meeting on Oct. 6.