Monday, August 27, 2012

Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center

Rachel Steele invited me to go to the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center construction site for a hard hat tour. Site supervisors Joe Brown and Joe Westgate met us in one of the construction site trailers. Rachel and I were issued reflective vests and hard hats. I had been instructed to wears long pants and close toed shoes. Since I always wear hiking boots, it was easy to comply.  I was read some safety instructions and then we were off.

We walked the muddy path to the Arts Center's skeletal structure. With Isaac looming in the Caribbean, Rachel asked how the  construction cranes ride out a hurricane. Joe explained that they are loosened and allowed to swing freely in the wind like a weather vane. Two towers stood apart from the rest of the theater complex. These will one day be stair wells. A large iron grid work structure was being assembled on the ground and it would be raised up to act as a support between the stairwell and the theater entrance. One such structure was already in place. We walked to the southern edge of the site to get a view of the Disney Theater that will seat 2700 people when it is complete. The proscenium was in place but re-bar was still being placed for the seating area. A large orchestra pit was lined in cement and a few balconies were assembled at the back of the hall. This space is intended for amplified performances including concerts, children’s shows and Broadway productions.

A smaller community theater will be in the center of the complex. Seating 300 people, the Jim and Alexis Pugh Theater will have a thrust stage for more intimate productions. A third Multi-Form Music Hall has yet to be started. Seating 1700 people it is impressive in that central seating rows can literally flip over using hydraulics to open up the space and even the walls move to adjust the space. A building was just demolished where this state of the art theater will stand but construction can not begin until more funds are raised.  The city is going to issue bonds to help raise funds. Construction on the two theaters started along with an arts education area and a huge outdoor plaza is slated to be completed by April of 2014. It was exciting to be on site imagining the future. Up in the Arts Center's offices in the round building on the corner of Anderson and Orange Avenue, I met the Arts Center mascot, a calm white bull dog named Lilly. From the top floor, I had an amazing view of the whole construction site. Dark clouds loomed slate grey behind the city hall as wind whipped sand and grit in my eyes as I leaned into the wind to get back to my car. Children's art whipped in the wind fluttering on the fence surrounding the site.

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