Hopeful Greensboro arts council tours DPAC

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DURHAM, N.C. -- If your business is building a multimillion-dollar performing arts center, it may help to look at a very successful multimillion-dollar performing arts center that already exists. That's why dozens of members of the group trying to make the Greensboro Performing Arts Center a reality took a trip to Durham Friday.

R. Ross Harris surveyed the Durham Performing Arts Center from the stage. Looking out on three levels and 2,700 red seats, she was impressed.

"I just think to have a facility like this in our town would be a game changer. It would really be a game changer," Harris said to a fellow onlooker.

Harris is the project manager for the Downtown Greensboro Performing Arts Center Project. It's a mouthful of words, but the size of the title is nothing compared to the size of the project. That's why Harris and her crew sought input from their hosts in Durham.

"I'd love for this group to come back and say, 'Here's the one thing that I learned today that the task force really has to keep in mind,'" Harris said.

DPAC marketing managers split the larger group into three smaller groups and gave tours, answering questions about the type and number of seats, the size of the center's footprint, the type of entertainment offered and the price of tickets.

Standing on the pristine red carpet of the mezzanine level, which overlooks downtown Durham, one guide even discussed the type of food served at functions and the installation of cup holders on theater seats.

"The last time we allowed popcorn in the theater was the last time we allowed popcorn in the theater," she told the group with a laugh. "Walking on this floor after that, we realized it was something we didn't want to do again."

There is more big-picture information that needs to be thought out first. Cost is one major example. Bill Kalkhof of Downtown Durham, Inc., one of the men responsible for bringing DPAC to life, guessed it wouldn't be cheap.

"It's going to cost some money.  This one is about $46 million so I don't see you doing one for under $50 million," Kalkhof said.

Mixed with other downtown attractions like the Durham Bulls stadium next door and the American Tobacco Campus across the street, Kalkhof was quick to note that the benefits of making downtown Durham a destination had far outweighed the costs there.

Kalkhof said Downtown Durham, Inc. set out to break even on DPAC, and the center has since begun turning a $2 million annual profit. That profit is split between DPAC's operator and the City of Durham. It makes the area attractive for businesses, too.

"If you build a downtown with entertainment value you're able to recruit and retain employees and if you're able to do that you're able to recruit businesses," Kalkhof said.

There's music to Ross Harris's ears, like the show tunes she hopes to hear in downtown Greensboro some day, and then there's what Kalkhof outlined, which sounds even sweeter. She wants what DPAC has, but she also wants a version appropriate for the Gate City instead of the Bull City.

"We want to build in Greensboro what's right for Greensboro. We don't want to build DPAC in Greensboro, literally," Harris said.

Harris and 10 others will also tour another performing arts center in Dayton, Ohio, on Monday. She said they need as much input as possible to build something everyone will love.

"This is something everyone in the community can enjoy. This is not just for the symphony or for the opera. There will be programming for everyone," Harris said. "I think we have one chance to get it right. And we're doing that research."

Harris will have to make a preliminary presentation to the Greensboro City Council on May 15, and her final presentation will be June 19.