Couple plans black-box theater for downtown building

A 115-year-old building in downtown Asheville will soon be home to the Altamont Theatre.

Theater lovers: Brian Lee and Tiffany Hampton Lee plan to stage professional musical-theater productions in a downtown Asheville building that's undergoing a $2 million, "green" renovation. Photo by Jason Sandford

Owners Brian and Tiffany Hampton Lee plan to stage professional musical-theater productions in the four-story building, which is being renovated under strict guidelines to qualify for historic-preservation tax credits. The project is also following the stringent guidelines for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification. The rating system promotes energy efficiency and other environmentally friendly construction practices.

"This is a long-term project for us," noted Brian Lee after a walk-through of the 1895 building on Church Street, which most recently served as an Asheville Savings Bank annex. "We want to contribute to the community."

The Lees bought the building about two years ago and started renovations in August. In the course of the work, they decided to pursue LEED certification. The couple moved to Asheville after Lee sold his half of a Cary, N.C., software company to his business partner. Tiffany Hampton Lee has pursued a career in professional theater since paying her way through college at N.C. State by acting in North Carolina Theatre productions.

The project is unusual in seeking the dual certifications. The Lees hired Glazer Architecture and contractor RPF Construction to complete the work. For the historic renovation, original details such as moldings must remain intact. For the LEED certification, there's a focus on recycling materials and installing energy-efficient features, such as solar panels on the roof to heat water. Both courses of action require strict documentation, notes Rick Fleming, president of RPF Construction.

"It's a team effort," he said. "It's not easy, but it's fun."

The challenging project has also offered up a few surprises. The building's roof structure was in such poor shape that it had to be completely replaced. The top floor was also apparently once home to a local chapter of the Odd Fellows fraternal organization. A hidden compartment in a dais, and doors with a small eye-level opening to identify visitors, suggest that the group may have been serving illegal alcohol, said Fleming. The doors have been saved and will be reused.

The ground floor will house the black-box theater, which will seat about 100 people. The basement level will feature a small gallery space for artwork, as well as a small bar and restrooms. There will also be dressing rooms downstairs with their own restrooms, and a green room, to satisfy Actors' Equity requirements. The top two floors will each house three apartments intended as vacation rentals. A two-story addition at the back of the building will bring the total space to about 11,000 square feet, according to Brian Lee.

By this fall, the Lees plan to begin staging musical productions featuring both local professional talent and New York performers. They also plan to offer drama classes for children, and they hope to offer the space for special events, such as weddings.

"We're ready to build something for us and for the community," noted Tiffany Hampton Lee, "and put our roots down."

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2 thoughts on “Couple plans black-box theater for downtown building

  1. Melissa Ricketts

    Tiffany,
    I’m still in Asheville. Let me know if I can help in any way.

    Melissa

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