The Durham Performing Arts Center was a gamble: a pie-in-the-sky plan hatched more than a decade ago as an anchor for a resurging Southern city, with the city contributing about 70 percent of the $48 million price tag.
Now, with eight years of performances on the books, the DPAC posted a profit of $4.5 million in its 2015-16 season, 40 percent of which goes back to the city in a share with the venture capitalists who covered the funding gap. Durham’s cut this year was $1.8 million.
It’s not a spectacular deal for the city, which borrowed $33.7 million in the form of bonds to come up with their portion and will be servicing the debt until 2036. But governments don’t exist to turn a profit, and the DPAC, according to its internal research, had an economic impact of $109 million on the city last season alone.
The differences between the DPAC and Greensboro’s own downtown performing arts center, the Tanger Center, which is scheduled to open in 2019, are significant but not insurmountable.
Durham is part of a larger metro area; there is less money in Greensboro, and — let’s face it — people outside of North Carolina have actually heard of Durham, while Greensboro remains off the national radar, certainly when it comes to high-dollar tourism.
And while Greensboro is kicking in roughly the same dollar amount that Durham did 10 years ago, the GPAC will cost almost twice what the DPAC did, with a current price tag of $78.1 million — the $40 million gap is to be filled with private donations, about half of which have been raised and most of the rest pledged.
But even while the Tanger Center is nothing more than a fenced-off patch of bare earth, it is still having an economic impact on downtown Greensboro. LeBauer Park is up and running. After success in its location proximate to the DPAC, the Aloft Hotel chain announced plans to build a few blocks from GPAC, with an opening date set for 2020. More projects are in the works for the area, mostly contingent on the Tanger Center, which at this point is too big to fail.
Yet, after a groundbreaking ceremony in May, the site remains untouched.
After a year of delays, construction on Phase I is scheduled to begin next week, though a contract with a builder has not been announced. Each delay brings with it diminishing returns in the forms of increased costs, decreased donor confidence and growing public distrust of the process.
And it’s a certainty that projects like Aloft and others reliant on the performing arts center will remain in a holding pattern until the Tanger Center moves forward.