Residents Give Feedback on Proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center

More than 40 people came out to Carrboro Town Hall earlier last night to give the Board of Alderman their thoughts about a proposed Carrboro Arts and Innovation Center downtown. The project, a joint effort of The ArtsCenter and Kidzu, would consist of a center with three performing arts center and kids museum located at at the intersection of Main and Roberson Streets.

The two partners propose raising half of the $15 million cost, with the town paying for the other half. They argue that the costs on the public side would be covered by tax revenues from a new hotel on the current ArtsCenter site that would also be part of the development. The town would own the new building, and the two non-profit partners would form a new organization that would raise funds for operations and manage the facility. That organization's new board will be appointed by the town. The partners estimated the economic impact of the project at around $320 million over the next 25 years.

The turnout was fantastic, with the Alderfolks board room and two overflow areas both at standing room only capacity. My sense was that of the folks who spoke, about 65% were there to raise to concerns about the project, while about 35% were there to express their support. There was universal support from all speakers for the wonderful wor that the ArtsCenter and Kidzu are already doing.

Most of the concerns centered around the fact the the town has other needs that could use investment; that the parking and other infrastructure downtown aren't sufficient to support the structure; that the details of the plan, especially concerning the hotel aren't clear; and that the size and scale of the project might not be appropriate for downtown.

Supporters emphasized the economic and cultural beneifts of the center, and stressed the good work that these organizations are already doing.

I went into the meeting really unsure about the proposal. The idea is bold and the project could be great for the town, but the devil is in the details. To me it's a big investment, and it doesn't seem like there's a firm plan in place. What risk would the town take by making this investment? How else could the money be used? 

At this point, I still think that the project would be spectacular if it's done right. The combined creative enegry of Betsy Bennett and Philip Szostak is hard to beat, and the vitality of this town's arts scene is unmatched, especially among smaller towns. I still have some doubts though, and would like more specifics of the financials (would the partners be able to leverage more private funds, would the town be on the hook if operating expenses couldn't be covered, etc.), more information about the hotel and more details on the how the building would fit into the current downtown streetscape.

To be sure, this is just the first step in what may be a long process. The Alderfolks will continue the public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 3, and will also hold a work session on the subject at a later date. If you can't make the next meeting you can also have your comments captured by tweeting on #CAICPublicComments or emailing

My tweets (and those from some others) are below.



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