On the block: task force eyes auditorium remodel

Filed under: News |

The City Auditorium was built in 1924.

For the last several months, a group of community leaders has been meeting under the aegis of the Downtown Partnership to chart the future of the historic City Auditorium.
The group includes City Councilman Randy Purvis, contractor Chuck Murphy, Susan Edmondson of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, World Arena manager Dot Lischick, city staffers Jim Rees and Tim Scanlon, and Beth Kosley of the Downtown Partnership.
Built in 1924, the city-owned auditorium has had limited maintenance in recent years and members of the task force unanimously agree that it needs major renovation. While the group has yet to determine the exact cost of such a renovation, it is expected to be in the mid-seven figures.
The goal of the task force is to assemble the information necessary to enable City Council, and ultimately the voters, to decide how best to tackle the renovation.
Thanks to $40,000 in city funds, as well as a $17,000 grant from the State Historic Fund, the task force has commissioned two studies of the auditorium.
Compass Facility Management of Oklahoma City has been hired to create a business development plan. The task force chose Compass because of its experience in managing public facilities nationwide.
Compass’ Steve Peters said the goal of the plan is to assess the existing market for the auditorium and profile the possible markets for a renovated facility.
For several days last month, three Compass employees conducted interviews with potential users, including performing arts groups, schools, colleges, churches, youth groups and commercial users.
The completed study will include a marketing plan and a management plan. Together, these plans will guide the renovation. Peters said the needs of potential users are the most important drivers of the project.
“If you just go ahead and renovate without talking to the folks who are going to be your customers, you might just end up with a beautiful facility that stands empty … because it just doesn’t work for anyone,” he said.
Peters expressed confidence that a renovated auditorium would be a community benefit and an economically successful facility.
“We’ve heard some great ideas,” he said. “Someone suggested that Kiowa be closed off in front of the auditorium to create a public plaza for brownbag concerts and just make the whole area more pedestrian-friendly.”
And Peters liked what he saw while in Colorado Springs.
“This city is just an undiscovered gem,” he said after wrapping up his stay with a visit to the Fine Arts Center. “I think we ought to move our company here.”
Architect Michael Collins will perform an “historic assessment” of the auditorium.
The assessment will include a comprehensive study of the history, architecture and social context of the building. It will also identify the “necessary level of intervention” to adapt the auditorium to modern needs without sacrificing its historic character.
Such a study is important, said task force members, because it will provide the information necessary to apply for further grants from the State Historic Fund. The fund, supported by gambling revenue, is the largest such fund in any state.
Recent developments in the auditorium block suggest that significant private funds might be available to supplement public renovation dollars.
West of the auditorium, a group led by developers Ray O’ Sullivan and Sam Guadagnoli, is planning a 24-story building that would contain a 250 room hotel.
According to the developers, they hope to work with the city in renovating the auditorium.
Because a renovated City Auditorium would be the perfect venue for many hotel-generated events, O’Sullivan said that a public-private partnership would benefit both parties.
Neither O’Sullivan nor Guadagnoli would commit to a specific dollar amount.
On the southern half of the auditorium block, developer Chris Jenkins is planning a multi-story building that would include retail stores, apartments and possibly another hotel.
Jenkins has said that he supports a renovated auditorium.
He said that while the auditorium’s present condition reduces the value of surrounding properties, a renovated structure would enhance property values. Jenkins suggested that his building and the auditorium might be able to share a common HVAC system – thereby reducing renovation costs.
Task force members hope to have both studies completed by this Fall.
John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com