Cornelius arts center renderings

A rendering of the proposed Cornelius arts center.

The issue: Plans are in the works for a new arts center

The Cornelius Arts and Community Center, a future planned regional arts center in the heart of town, has been in the works for years. After a lot of brainstorming of what people would like to see, serious work has been done in hashing out a realistic version of the plan. The aim is to make the center user-friendly for people of all walks of life, incorporating a variety of art mediums, including dance, theater and 2-D art, to bring people together and provide exceptional visual arts and performing arts to the Lake Norman region. Although a separate organization is planning the center, Cornelius commissioners have used town funds to invest $1.4 million in property near Oak Street Mill for the potential location of the arts center, and $4 million in voter-approved funds have been earmarked for the center. The town could also decide to use the future center as the location of its arts programming. 


What happened: Costs, traffic proved to be an issue 

Over the past several months, the nonprofit’s board has been doing studies to see what is needed in the center as well as what is feasible. Among the recurring obstacles were costs, location and traffic. The original plan was to have roughly 50,000 square feet of space with a 500-seat theater and educational spaces and a gallery space, but it came with a cost of approximately $32 million. Stakeholders and town officials felt this number was too high. So the arts board had a 60-day study of project options that were presented to Cornelius commissioners during a July 2 pre-meeting session. Among them were to continue with the “dream scheme,” do a smaller option that only had a 300-seat theater and no educational classrooms or gallery space, pursue another location such as the empty Waltrip building, combine options, build something without theater space or have a budget-led process with a specific number that could be spent. 


What it means: Some cuts to the plan have been made 

The budget-led process proves to be the best with a $20-22 million construction cost as the goal, according to Arts Center Director Justin Dionne. The new design is a hybrid model of what was originally wanted by cutting down square footage to 35,000 square feet; planning for a 450-seat theater with adjustable floor seating; having two classrooms, one as a dance or yoga studio and one for multipurpose; having one large gallery and event space; keeping the lobby with concessions, storage and restrooms; having some theater support space but no rehearsal space; having offices and a warming kitchen; and offering an outdoor amphitheater with green space. It was also confirmed the Waltrip property was not feasible because a theater space would still have to be built, and the project wouldn’t be eligible for town bond money because those funds were designated only for use in the Cornelius Town Center. 


What’s next: The quiet fundraising phase has begun 

The board is still working with contractors to see what the potential final cost could be; however, the quiet fundraising phase has begun where the arts center board will begin seeking out high-dollar donors and sponsors for naming rights. Dionne said it will likely stay that way for a year before getting the public more involved. PMA Consulting will help with initial campaign planning and assessment, plus there is a partnership with Deloitte to do a capital campaign model. Parking and traffic seem to still be a concern, though staff are looking into it. The plan is to look at existing site conditions and consider potential alternatives for traffic impacts, do traffic counts to know the current peak travel times, look at existing public and private parking capabilities and provide a conceptual event traffic management overview. Because of all of this, it could be more than a year before the project has a groundbreaking to ensure 70-80 percent of the funds have been obtained. The arts center board plans to keep the town in the loop every step of the way, Dionne said. 


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