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Column: Performing arts center proves exciting prospect

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It’s early yet in the decision-making process, but the prospect of having a performing arts center in downtown Columbus is downright exciting.

Bob Crider, a member of the Crump Theatre study committee that had been looking into renovation options for the 135-year-old building, commented last week about what the availability of the nearby Sears store could mean for the city’s newly designated arts district.

He called it a “game-changer.”

When it became known in January that Sears soon would be leaving its home of 41 years, a couple of scenarios were quickly and eagerly added to Columbus theater options being crafted by the Jones & Phillips Associates architectural firm of Lafayette.

One option presented last week to the Columbus Capital Foundation, which owns both the Crump and the Sears properties, would be to incorporate a 1,200-seat performing arts center on the site of the former Sears store. It would be attached to the back of YES Cinema and Indiana University Center for Art+Design. Price tag: $30 million.

A second one would be a new, stand-alone performing arts center across the street on what was a parking lot for the Sears store and its auto center. Price tag: Too soon to say.

I have seen a similar-sized facility go up and can tell you it was a “game-changer” for New Philadelphia and Dover, Ohio.

These next-door cities in eastern Ohio, with a combined population of 30,000 and up to two hours away from both Cleveland and Pittsburgh, saw their cultural stock skyrocket when a regional campus of Kent State University built a 50,000-square-feet, 1,100-seat theater that opened in 2010 with a price tag of $17.3 million.

This turf was off the beaten path for touring concert shows and Broadway performances, but that quickly changed when the theater opened. In a venue that size, every seat in the house is a good one.

The facility gave the region’s quality of life a jolt and became a major drawing card for local tourism, combining with other attractions to invite overnight stays.

In its fourth season, the theater booked 43 acts this year including a Broadway series that included “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy,” “Godspell,” “Chicago,” “Driving Miss Daisy” and “West Side Story.”

Concerts on this year’s schedule included blues legend B.B. King and country music stars Kenny Rogers and Vince Gill.

Shows from the first few seasons — some of which I got to see — included Broadway touring groups of “A Chorus Line,” “Mamma Mia!” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”

The concert stage was graced in the first few seasons by country artists such as the Oak Ridge Boys and Darius Rucker, pianist Jim Brickman, Blue Man Group and Mannheim Steamroller.

There was also a comedy series that brought in stars such as Bill Cosby, Sinbad and the duo of Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood.

When I was living there, among the shows I saw were big-band musician John Tesh, country singer Clint Black and the Broadway show “Wizard of Oz.”

If ever a wizard there was, it was campus Dean Gregg Andrews, whose dream was realized with opening of the performing arts center. He also had a strong hand in the fundraising.

It’s fun to dream about things like this.

Look at the accompanying photograph of opening night at that center, and picture that building and the excitement and pride it brought ... on the edge of downtown Columbus.

Before the first shovel of dirt is dug in a celebratory ground-breaking, there is much to consider and much to do. And there are questions which must be raised and answered that may be a mile long, including:

Would Columbus want such a center? I’m thinking yes.

Does Columbus need such a center? See answer above.

And, most importantly, could Columbus afford such a center? I’m not an expert in these things, but as they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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