Auditorium to start on road to becoming the Tobin Center

 
May 10, 2011
The stately Municipal Auditorium building is about two weeks away from the first baby steps of construction work to turn it into the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.

The city will move out of the historic building May 23, and a nonprofit foundation overseeing the project will take over — starting by removing and recycling much of the interior to make way for work that will turn the historic-but-echo-filled auditorium into an acoustically appropriate home for the opera, ballet, symphony and other performance groups.

Thousands of theater seats and equipment such as stage lights will be dismantled and delivered to community groups such as the Magik Theatre and the Scottish Rite Auditorium, said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., president and chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation.

So despite a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday attended by more than 300 people, including a bevy of elected officials and emceed by former Spurs player and current TV analyst Sean Elliott, it will be a few months before construction work is visible at the site. "There has to be a transition of sorts," said Clarence E. "Bud" Franks, the interim managing director of the foundation.

The foundation board also plans to launch a national search to replace Rodney Smith, the project's former managing director who died in March. "We're not under time pressure," Bugg said. "We've got a steady hand on the rudder."

Franks, who has been Bexar County's consultant on the project and did the first feasibility study for it in 2007, is overseeing the construction and programming for now, and said he would like to be considered for the permanent job.

The Tobin Center should open in spring 2014 — about six months later than initially planned due to the board's decision to fundraise for and install an $11 million movable seating system that will allow a flat floor for special events or the traditional, sloping theater configuration.

Construction fencing will surround the site starting in early June.

Mayor Julián Castro said the project is a key amenity to improve downtown and attract people and businesses to San Antonio. "All of that comes together here at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts," Castro said. The city's Historic and Design Review Commission recently gave final approval for the project's design, ending six months of controversy over a 215-foot, translucent metal rooftop "veil" that will disguise mechanical structures.

Project architects have defended it as a dramatic design feature. Members of the San Antonio Conservation Society have said the veil will overwhelm the facade of the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the roof and the back of the building will be demolished, but the front will remain, making room for a performance hall and studio theater. Outside, a plaza would provide concert space and connect the building to the River Walk.

Bexar County voters in 2008 approved $110 million for cultural arts projects, including $100 million for a performing arts center. The city has donated Municipal Auditorium, an annex structure and surrounding land, valued at about $41 million. The foundation has raised about $34 million so far in private funding, and has a goal of $54 million.



Auditorium to start on road to becoming the Tobin Center
By Jennifer Hiller - San Antonio Express News