The City Council decided the fate of the Carolina Theatre Monday night, awarding it to the non-profit Foundation for the Carolinas for $1, over a competing, half-million dollar bid. The historic venue has fallen into disrepair since closing in the 1970s, but its sits on prime Uptown real estate.
The Foundation for the Carolinas offered $1, but with a very specific vision. The Carolina Theatre will join the library, Discovery Place, Spirit Square—and the Foundation itself—on a block entirely dedicated to civic use. Last night, a cadre of the city’s other non-profits stood behind the Foundation’s proposal.
“We support their vision for the property, but more importantly, believe they are in the strongest position to get the job done for this community’s benefit,” said Dorlisa Flor, a board member for the Blumenthal Center for the Arts.
In addition to restoring the theater, the Foundation will simultaneously construct an office tower over it, which will be rented to non-profit and for-profit businesses. The proposal estimates construction will start within five years, although it does not set a firm date. That beat out the competing proposal from the for-profit ARK Group, over the protests of owner Rick Lazes. He argued his company made more business sense.
“There’s absolutely no financial commitment by the Foundation, an agreement for no payment to the city,” said Lazes. “In fact, there’s not even a timeline for the restoration of the theater or for the funding of the theater.”
ARK offered the $500,000 for the theater up front, plus more tax revenue than the Foundation. Both groups offered to restore the theater, and both offered to use it for civic purposes. At the meeting, members of the Council seemed reluctant to vote against either proposal and suggested the two organizations share the theater, but the idea did not move forward.
Six hands raised for the billion-dollar non-profit’s one dollar deal, narrowly beating the five which favored the other proposal. But right before the vote, the mayor had a statement for the council.
“I grow a little concerned, as my hair turns a little greyer and I see a little more of the way our city is changing,” the mayor said. “That, in seeking the kinds of outcomes that we might want to see, individuals become too muscular in pushing for those ideas behind closed doors and not behind this dais.”
Foxx did not specify what back room deals he may have felt took place before the vote on the theater’s fate, but he did say it wasn’t the council’s place to force the two organizations to work together.