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1,200-seat concert hall proposed for ex-Sears site


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The exit of Sears from the downtown retail stage may provide just what the Crump Theatre needs to find new life as a small, community performance venue.

Lafayette-based architecture firm Jones & Phillips Associates laid out a scenario Monday night that would transform the now-vacant Sears store at 222 Commons Mall into a large performance hall.

Architect Van Phillips said the arts venue suggested for the Sears block would not cost much more than a $30 million alternative to renovate the 135-year-old Crump at 425 Third St. into a 1,200-seat theater.

At the same time, the Crump could become a more intimate venue for smaller acts, including a bar and an art-deco style renovation that would capitalize on its historic charm.

The Sears option was among five proposals presented by the consultants to nearly 70 people who attended a Columbus Redevelopment Commission meeting at City Hall on Monday.

No funding mechanisms were suggested or recommended by the consultants to pay for the projects.

A combination of tax-increment financing, or TIF, money and private donations could be used, Mayor Kristen Brown said. The city would want to wait until the public has a chance to consider the proposals before funding is discussed, she said. A larger public information meeting on the Crump feasibility study is planned for April 24, although a time and location have yet to be determined.

When it started the study, the consulting firm didn’t anticipate the former 63,000-square-foot Sears space being available. The Sears lot is nearly six times the size of the 11,359-square-foot Crump property, which is a block away.

After learning in January that Sears planned to vacate the retail store this month, the consultants put together a proposal to turn the former Sears building into an arts center that would include a new, larger performing arts space, the YES Cinema, Indiana University Center for Art + Design, a new convention center and office space. The consultants said they do not yet have an estimated cost for the arts center concept.

Bob Crider, a member of a local study committee that has been looking into ways to renovate the Crump, called the Sears idea a “game-changer.”

“It changes the whole set of possibilities,” he said. “If the Sears space has possibilities as a performance hall and can be done more inexpensively than the Crump, it frees up the Crump for uses we wouldn’t have otherwise considered.”

That combination would satisfy the hopes of many people who want the performance space but want to save the Crump, too, Crider said.

Kelly Wilson, associate professor with the IUCA+D, already a tenant in the Sears building, said if the plan were to pick up steam the university would be prepared to contribute.

“IU is planning to invest in the center, and we will be looking to expand our own capabilities. Columbus is pivotal to IU’s plans,” he said. “This will mean that if we can put a theater into the Sears block with the expansion of a design program, this would be a good thing.”

Study: Columbus held back

Wilson agreed with the consultants who presented their findings on the role arts have in Columbus and other comparable cities, showing that the city doesn’t have an adequate venue for theater productions, children’s theater shows or conference meeting spaces.

“What we need is synergy, (a) destination and a sensation that people are here using a portion of downtown to be creative and make things,” he said.

The possibility of adding convention space is something that has been discussed in Columbus for a long time, said Lynn Lucas, executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

“We are in need of more meeting, trade show and convention space. It would help us a great deal,” Lucas said. “A facility like Sears with all of that square footage, even if there are uses for not-for-profits or IUCA+D, has a lot of room there.”

Lucas said many of the conventions her office books utilize the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center near I-65 on Jonathan Moore Pike, which can host only about 400 people. Lucas said her office has had to turn away many potential conventions because of venue limits but is hopeful that won’t be the case with a new, larger arts and convention center.

Although a new performing arts center could provide a 1,200-seat theater, the consultants made it clear that building a new facility wouldn’t necessarily leave the existing Crump to continue to crumble.

Instead, the Crump would be reimagined into an intimate venue for smaller acts, a possible bar with a restored art-deco interior at a cost of less than $4 million, Phillips said.

“The Crump would be free at that point … to evolve, really evolve like it’s already done four different times,” he said.

The Crump has gone through at least three extensive renovations since opening in late 19th century, changing it from an opera house to a movie theater and its most-recent incarnation, a live performance space.

“We can go back and really make it better, taking that art-deco (concept) and expand upon it,” he said.

Spillover effect

A new downtown venue would generate more foot traffic for other downtown businesses.

Steve Leach, owner of The Garage Pub & Grill, said he’s already noticed an influx in business when events are going on at The Commons. Leach said a performing arts center would be a positive addition.

“I think it would be phenomenal for downtown,” he said. “When we’ve had different events in the past, you get a spillover effect. People maybe want to eat and drink prior to or afterwards.”

Leach said he’s talked to other downtown businesses throughout the area who are all on board with any project that would keep the Crump open and add additional performing and meeting spaces in Columbus.

Fourth Street Bar & Grill owner Kurt Schwarze said downtown doesn’t currently offer a place for people to experience a large production or large indoor concert, which visitors notice right away.

“We get frequent visitors who come downtown to get a drink and a bite to eat and say ‘OK, now what do we do?’” he said.

Schwarze thinks adding entertainment options would benefit all downtown business owners — especially restaurants — and residents.

THE OPTIONS

Here are the options presented for creating new performance arts space in Columbus, including renovating the downtown Crump Theatre or creating a new arts venue at the Sears site. The Columbus Capital Foundation Board could choose one or more of the options below for renovations at either or both sites.

Renovate Crump with 450 seats

This proposal would turn the Crump, 425 Third St., into a jewel of a community facility while keeping the façade, lobby and lounge, albeit totally upgraded.

The audience chamber would be reworked and the stage rebuilt; sound and light locks would be added; seating and sight lines would be improved. The facility would have about 300 seats on the first floor and about 150 in the balcony.

Excess space in the balcony could be turned into a meeting room or provide much-needed storage for resident companies.

There would be a place for community theater, for musical events currently held in churches and community centers. A 40-foot-wide stage is still too narrow for The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic but would serve virtually all other uses. Dance classes could do their recitals there; smaller music groups from schools could have a performance space that is better suited to their needs.

Cost: $10,801,000

Replace Crump with 1,000-seat venue

A new 1,000-seat venue on the Crump site would result in demolition of the existing Crump Theatre.

New building footprint would include south alley, east grass area and the Wells Fargo surface parking lot. A lobby would be at the rear of the house, with audience seating on three levels.

The stage would be redone, and a full basement for performer support and mechanical/electrical infrastructure would be provided.

The fundamental assumption would be the ability to acquire the Wells Fargo property. Although able to provide 1,000 seats, the option is very constrained for space. There is no opportunity for patron drop-off or pickup at the front entry. No on-site space is available for public restrooms.

There are no public restrooms on the first floor, where most patron seats are located. Instead, they are shown on the second and third floors in the adjacent building, accessed by an enclosed bridge over the alley. The team feels this option will provide a less than desirable patron and performer experience for the expenditure required.

Cost: $22,648,269

Construct Road House on Crump site

Most of the Crump would be dismantled and a roadhouse would be constructed. This is predicated on taking over the entire quarter-block and the alley behind the theater. Even with those additions, the site is small for a venue of this type. In order to make this option work, nearly all of the building is torn down and rebuilt. The Crump sign could be saved and reused, and the architecture would pay homage to the current look, but it would not duplicate the 56-foot-wide building.

This option also would meet some of the needs of the community. The Philharmonic could use this facility, for example. It would be too large for many small community groups but would allow for professional entertainment to be booked in Columbus. Using only the main floor would make it a good size for many family entertainment events. In addition, it could be used as an adjunct to many downtown festivals. Booking road shows into the community would support destination tourism and keep in Columbus dollars that citizens are now spending in Louisville, Nashville, Bloomington and Indianapolis.

At 450 to 550 seats, the facility could address some of the area’s unmet meeting-room needs.

Cost: $29,357,546

Performing Arts Center at Sears site

As part of a new performing arts center, an auditorium would be built on the footprint of the former Sears store, 222 Commons Mall, and attach to the back of the YES Cinema and IUCA+D buildings. The auditorium would seat 1,200 patrons, would have a loading dock and lobby space.

The center also would have a convention center space.

Cost: About $30 million

Center on Sears site; convention center, IUCA+D connected

The site of the former Sears building would turn into a convention center. The YES Cinema and IUCA+D building would stay in their current places but could utilize the new convention areas and lobby spaces.

To the west of the Sears site would be a second building, part of the arts center, that would house a 1,200-seat auditorium with lobby space, a loading dock and office space. This is across the street from the retail store, where the auto center and a parking lot was located.

As part of this option, the Crump’s existing stage would be closed at its downtown location, and the facility would be brought up to code and renovated for about $4 million. There would be a small stage space at the Crump, but the large performance venue would be at the Sears site.

Cost: Not yet available

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