A Performing Arts Alternative

A new proposal to address the arts and cultural needs of our community is starting to gain momentum. For so long, the talk about arts and culture has been focused on the controversial proposal to build a downtown 1700 seat performing arts center.

Given the financial constraints and the failure of that project to gain inroads with alternative funding sources, it appears a number of people have decided to regroup, turn the page, and move in a new direction.
The new direction involves the vacant Northwood Mall at corner of Tharpe and North Monroe streets.

A volunteer committee of 20 community members with varying expertise was formed in June 2013 with encouragement from City Commissioner Gil Ziffer and charged with investigating the possibilities of Northwood center as a Cultural Center made a presentation to the City Commission on October 9th.

David Gilchrist of Gilchrist Ross Crowe Architects who designed Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, was commissioned by the City of Tallahassee to lead the investigation as it relates to the Northwood Mall’s old Publix’s physical structure and its possibilities of supporting an arts center.

Mr. Gilchrist told the City Commission that Northwood Mall “is a great location, lots of parking and available space.” The former mall has 55,000 square feet of space and over 1700 paring spaces.

Mr. Gilchrist talked about how the space could facilitate a 20,000 square foot black box theater seating up to 250 people with the remaining space used to accommodate the needs of other arts and business groups.
A black box theater is a simply designed space that can be quickly transformed to accommodate the needs of various types of presentations. Various sources indicate that black box theatres became popular and widespread in the 1960s and 1970s during which low-cost experimental theater was being actively practiced as never before.

Since almost any warehouse or open space in any building can be transformed into a black box, including abandoned cafés and stores, the appeal for nonprofit and low-income artists is high.
The concept being pursued by the committee at the Northwood Mall is to reinvent an existing facility into a creative destination that can cultivate the process, presentation, and the collaborative experiences of arts and technology for the community.

Lori Danello Roberts, a co-chair of the volunteer committee with Tim Edmonds said “we want to bring together our artists and art organizations and have them working next to each other.”

The Tallahassee Ballet has already moved in (as of Sept. 1, 2013) and looks forward to many other arts and technology organizations coming on board.

Mr. Tim Edmond, a local developer, talked about the business side of the project. The goal is “to make this project financially self-sustaining.” Mr. Edmond also said “ I think this can energize the north Monroe corridor to I-10.”

The North Monroe to I-10 corridor has received a lot of attention from local government due to the economic challenges evident in that area of the city.

Mr. Edmond, who was involved with the downtown performing arts center project, believes that a successful arts facility is a crucial component of the economic development of our community.

The committee said that a final written proposal will be completed by end of the year.

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