GREENSBORO, N.C. — Steven Tanger is used to seeing his name on signs outside of buildings.
His last name.
What’s about to happen in downtown Greensboro during the next few weeks will mark the first time his full name will appear on a building.
And it’s not what he originally wanted.
“I wanted to make the donation as ‘anonymous,’” he told me recently moments after he walked into the $90-plus million Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts for the first time.
“But I was convinced (by those in charge of fundraising) that a name was necessary, that it wouldn’t be appropriate to have an ‘anonymous performing arts center.’”
With its 3,023 seats, the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts is the largest theatre venue in North Carolina and one of the largest in the United States.
Many private donors have helped build it. Of those, Tanger contributed $7.5 million, making him the largest donor and giving him naming rights.
When he walked into the expansive Kaplan Theatre, he was almost at a loss for words. But he managed to speak six of them.
“It’s beautiful. This is very impressive,”
He credits local attorney, philanthropist, current Democratic nominee for the 6th District Congressional Seat and the Tanger Center’s chief fundraiser, Kathy Manning, for convincing him to give the money.
She had two meetings with him months ago. During the first, he told her he’d think about it.
“And a couple of weeks later, she invited me to go for pizza for lunch.” It must have been some good pizza. Tanger says this meeting helped him reach the decision. But it wasn’t the only factor.
“I had talked to both my mother and sister about the idea of making a donation,” he said. “And they both said, ‘You should do what you can do. And if it means naming rights you should do it because this (Greensboro) is our home.’”
In fact, Tanger’s family was living in Greensboro when his late father, retired textile/apparel executive Stanley Tanger, opened the Burlington Manufacturer’s Outlet Center in Burlington in the early 1980s. It was the first outlet mall of its type in the United States.
That company would grow into what is today Tanger Factory Outlets. The company is still headquartered in Greensboro and owns (according to its website) 39 outlet centers in 20 states and Canada.
Steven Tanger took over as CEO when his father retired in 2009. It’s a job he still holds.
“My mother and my father taught me the meaning of philanthropy. It’s our obligation,” he told me. “And I try to teach my children it’s their responsibility to help other people.”
So Tanger sees this gift as one that will — among other things — bring more people into Greensboro, attract more companies, produce jobs and help the people who live in the city where he grew up.
“I’m happy and honored to have my name on the door and I hope it inspires other people in whatever way they can to participate in the performing arts, to show their children and grandchildren, family members, to invite people to Greensboro, introduce them to the performing arts or let them enjoy the performing arts whatever they may be.”
But donating a lot of money and having your name on a building doesn’t necessarily give you special perks.
“We’ve picked our seats (and paid for) season tickets for the Broadway series, but I don’t have assigned seats nor do I have free tickets. I buy tickets just like everyone else,” he said.
For more information on the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, click here.
For more information on Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, click here.