Civic Center gets good news for holidays

An upbeat Asheville Civic Center Commission received several pieces of welcome news at their Dec. 2 meeting, including a green light for work to finally begin on replacing the roof of the arena and concourse.

“The city and [architect John] Cort have come to an agreement, and he is beginning work,” Civic Center Director Sherman Bass announced. The timeline for the long-awaited work calls for bids to be secured by June 2009, with construction anticipated to start by next October.

“That’s very good news,” said commission Chair George Keller. The group had identified the roof replacement for the 1974 facility (Cort was one of the original designers) on the list of infrastructure needs it presented to City Council in 2005, but action was delayed while the city considered installing a “green” or “living” roof on the facility. Eventually, a feasibility study recommended against the vegetative roof because it would have required reinforcement, increasing the cost. This summer, Council approved installing a standard roof (see “Filling the Holes,” July 30 Xpress), but the final contract with the Cort Architectural Group was only recently settled, allowing the project to proceed.

Bass also reported that he’s expecting the delivery of materials for a new portable stage for the arena—due to be installed in time for this year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, slated for Dec. 12 and 13. Pinching pennies in light of the current economic downturn, Bass told the commission that he’s delayed advertising for bids for replacing the portable chairs until the spring, in order to ensure that the stage would be replaced. “The stage needed to be done,” he explained, “because of the safety of it.”

Another bright note for the commissioners was City Council’s Nov. 25 approval of the use of digital signs and LED marquees in the downtown area (see “Asheville City Council,” Dec. 3 Xpress). The Civic Center has planned for some time to replace the existing marquee with a digital version once the sign-ordinance hurdle was cleared.

In other business, commission members were introduced to James Baudoin, the new executive director of the Asheville Area Center for the Performing Arts and the project manager for the proposed Performance Center of Asheville, which the group is spearheading. Baudoin previously served as director and project manager for the RiverCenter project in Columbus, Ga.—a three-theater complex developed as a public/private partnership. Baudoin said his group is in the process of selecting architects to design and administer the Asheville project, and he anticipates having the beginning of a design team in place by spring.

“We want to be about Asheville,” Baudoin noted, saying his group hopes to choose locally based architects but that, in any case, they’ll be from no farther away than Charlotte.

The commission also discussed the potential for refurbishing the center’s banquet hall. Bass said the ceiling, carpet, glass and sound system need to be replaced, and handicapped access might need to be improved. There was also talk of seeking sponsorships to help fund the makeover. The room’s “fantastic location,” he said, could attract many more clubs and meetings.

In addition, Bass reported that the recent Widespread Panic concerts were a big success, with more than 5,000 attendees on Nov. 28 and 6,000 on Nov. 29. He’s expecting even larger crowds for this year’s Christmas Jam.

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