Apparently, a group of residents seeking a performing arts center for Pinehurst has gone to the village council, with hat in hand, seeking financing to get the project moving.
A performing arts center is a nice idea. Everybody ought to have one. But, when taxpayers are expected to foot a significant portion of the bill, trouble can result. If you don’t believe me, ask officials in Roanoke Rapids. The Crown Centre in Fayetteville — another facility with public financing — has struggled mightily with its finances. The City of Lumberton finds itself pumping thousands per year into the town’s Civic Center to help it stay afloat.
The consultant the group wants to hire to get the project launched has worked on a number of similar projects, including The Hayes Center in Blowing Rock. THAT facility has had a rather rocky history with finances. (Blowing Rock also has a lot of deep-pocketed, seasonal residents.) Let’s look a little closer to home — at the Sunrise Theater in downtown Southern Pines. Developments at the Sunrise beg the question: Is there a strong enough local market for a dedicated performing arts facility?
There’s also an issue of village government investing in a project that takes business from existing entities. Would the new center divert business from The Resort, The Fair Barn, Owens Auditorium @ SCC, or The Sunrise? How would you like for your business to suddenly be competing with village government?
Before spending ANY public money, I believe the village should make project organizers demonstrate there is some public support for this project. Make it a matching grant: organizers raise 80 percent from private sources, and the village kicks in the final 20 percent. Something like that limits taxpayers’ exposure, and, at the same time, demonstrates the village’s commitment to improving the quality of life for local residents.
Also, instead of building something new, look at existing possibilities. The Theatre Building in downtown used to host Broadway and Vaudeville productions. Why not work out a deal to return the building to its roots?