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Old Posted Jun 3, 2008, 9:23 PM
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Tobin Center Renovation

Web Posted: 06/02/2008 11:34 PM CDT

By Jennifer Hiller

A conceptual design released Monday for the new Bexar County Performing Arts Center shows Municipal Auditorium — the center's home — re-created as a “glowing space” along the San Antonio River.

The city, county and a nonprofit foundation gave the first clues to what the 1920s-era Municipal Auditorium might become — essentially a building with a personality split between old and new — when it is transformed.

The design shows that the venerable, iconic stone facade would remain reassuringly the same, easily familiar to residents as a place beloved for its long history of hosting high school graduations and Fiesta coronations.

But from behind, expansive glass walls and an outdoor amphitheater stair-stepping its way down to the San Antonio River would open the building to the River Walk for the first time.

The Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, the nonprofit group overseeing the plans, commissioned San Antonio architecture firms Lake/Flato and Ford, Powell & Carson to create the conceptual design.

The conceptual master plan doesn't address the particulars of the project — how the interior halls will look, the acoustics, the materials palette or the exact exterior design.

Instead, it sketches out the biggest challenges of the existing building and gives suggestions for how to solve those problems, including the need to connect with the river, the preservation of the historic facade and the need to break the existing 4,800-seat hall into something useful to a variety of performing arts companies.

Resident companies at the Bexar County Performing Arts Center would include the San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Opera and Ballet San Antonio.

Voters on May 10 approved extending the venue tax on hotel rooms and rental cars. Among a variety of civic projects to be funded is $110 million for the performing and visual arts, including $100 million to transform Municipal Auditorium into a performing arts center. (The other $10 million will go to the Alameda Theater and the Dolph and Janey Briscoe Western Art Museum).

Preliminary plans for Municipal Auditorium include an exterior restoration and an interior redo that would divide the building into a series of smaller halls that could host anything from a pop concert to an opera or local theater production and still have spaces that people could rent for receptions and events.

A 1,700- to 2,000-seat main hall would be the centerpiece, but a 3,000-square-foot rehearsal hall and a 250- to 450-seat flexible theater could accommodate local performing arts groups and theater companies. Many of those groups do not have a dedicated home for performances.

Although plans currently call for preserving the building's facade, Ted Flato, founding partner of Lake/Flato Architects, said one unavoidable change is that the existing roofline will need to be raised to achieve the ceiling height needed for good acoustics.

Another problem is the lack of on-site parking. Mayor Phil Hardberger and County Judge Nelson Wolff have been talking with nearby churches and owners of parking garages to create a parking plan for the venue.

“There will be parking. The deal has not been cut,” Hardberger said. “If you don't have the parking, you won't get the people. We realize that.”

The performing arts center foundation is starting an in-depth program study, talking to resident organizations and other performing arts groups to figure out priorities, hall size and acoustic needs.

The foundation also will hire a consultant to help it with a worldwide search for architects, acousticians and designers.

“This will be a very thorough, very methodical process,” said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., who heads the performing arts center foundation.

The architect-hiring and design process will take two years, during which Municipal Auditorium will remain open. Construction then is expected to take another three years.

Bugg said the foundation plans to follow the process used during the recent expansion of the McNay Art Museum. In that, the McNay's board used a consultant to find 30 architects worldwide to consider hiring. Museum trustees narrowed the list to five, from whom they heard proposals before making a final decision.

The performing arts center foundation also is working on a plan to raise $32 million in private funds toward construction and design costs, along with an operations and maintenance fund to help get the center started.

The foundation will operate the center under an agreement with the city and county.

There's a rendering in the article. I can't wait for this project to kick off!
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