Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
In a unanimous decision, City Council members last week voted to approve a longterm lease agreement that clears the way for a brand new TheatreSquared performing arts center in downtown Fayetteville.
Once built, the new facility will stand at the southeast corner of Spring Street and West Avenue across from Nadine Baum Studios, where the local nonprofit theater company has leased space for about a decade.
A 54-space, city-owned parking lot currently occupies the land, but officials say the new 236-space parking deck at the corner of Spring and School Avenue will make up for the loss of parking spots.
The 25-year lease can be renewed up to three times, and does not include any rental fees for use of the land. Instead, TheatreSquared will be required to provide “highly professional performances” that, at a minimum meet “the quantity and quality of those performed over the past year.”
Preliminary plans call for a 50,000-square-foot building with room for performance and rehearsal spaces, design workshops, staff offices, educational areas, residences for traveling performers, and a possible coffee shop or restaurant. Officials have also discussed incorporating facilities for community activities and other public gathering spaces.
TheatreSquared officials said the company is bursting at the seams after 10 years in its current home.
“We’ve grown from an idea to a nationally recognized organization with a $2 million annual budget,” said Bob Ford, TheatreSquared’s artistic director. Ford said the company recently passed the 40,000 mark for attendance this season, which included over 200 performances and began with TheatreSquared’s largest production to date, the modern classic Amadeus.
As part of the search for a new home, TheatreSquared enlisted London-based theatre consultancy Charcoalblue to assess the company’s current space, and was then awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to explore potential sites. The project was later selected as one of the first to receive an award from the Walton Family Foundation’s new Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program to help pay for architectural work on the new facility.
Jeremy Pate, Fayetteville’s development services director, said city staff are in full support of the project.
“We believe the economic and cultural impact of an extended unique theater in the downtown can be a significant draw for tourism and also economic development,” said Pate. “A flourishing cultural arts and entertainment district only helps the other businesses that support that industry as well.”
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan agreed and said studies cited at the U.S. Conference of Mayors have shown that the arts is the third-best economic driver for a city.
“I think this will create a true arts campus together with the Walton Arts Center and other facilities across the street,” said Jordan. “I think this is a huge win for the city and a huge win for the community.”
Ford said TheatreSquared is currently in the process of raising funds for the new facility, and the group hopes to have designs available to share with the public later this year.
Pate said the lease will not take effect until large-scale development plans are approved by the Planning Commission and proof of financing the capital costs for the project is in hand.