Tobin taking shape as a state-of-the-art performing arts center
May 28, 2014
The $203 million Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is coming along "on schedule and on budget," according to J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, which oversees the center.
It opens Sept. 4 with a yet-to-be-announced lineup for the grand opening.
A $54 million private fundraising campaign has $49 million in commitments, and Bugg anticipates that the remaining $5 million — a "reserve fund" — will be in hand by when the curtain rises.
The rest of the Tobin Center renovation, a total transformation of the 1920s Municipal Auditorium, has been funded by $108 million from Bexar County through its visitor tax revenues and $41 million from the city of San Antonio in land and building donations.
The center remains a construction site, with crews working day and night painting, installing wiring and fine-tuning the $8 million, state-of-the-art Spiralift flooring system in the multifunctional 1,751-seat H-E-B Performance Hall. But an elegant, performance space has risen from the bulldozer dust.
The facade is spotless, with large glass panels installed between the familiar arches. Crews are nighttime-testing the LED lighting system woven into the steel veil that covers the soaring stagehouse.
"Every day you come over here, there's something new," said Michael Fresher, president and CEO of the Tobin Center.
A $3 million kitchen is being installed, giant stainless vent hoods are in place and a culinary director and staff comes on board next week to begin planning menus.
A plaza out back with tall palms, black granite monuments to San Antonio's medal of honor winners and with tiered access to the River Walk awaits the installation of a $1.3 million, 32-by-18-foot video screen for movies and simulcasts. It just received the approval of the city's Historic Design and Review Commission.
Fresher said booking is brisk, that in 299 days from the Sept. 4 opening date to late June 2015 — the Tobin Center's inaugural season — 370 "uses" of the Tobin Center, in its various configurations — from banquets to symphony concerts — have been booked.
"That's 130 percent capacity," he said.
Bugg points out that the Tobin Center will receive no city or county operating funds.
"So we have to be self-sufficient," he said.
In addition to the house band, aka the San Antonio Symphony, the Attic Rep theater troupe and Opera San Antonio will call the Tobin Center home.
Among the big names already announced for the first season are Bill Cosby, David Sedaris, Itzhak Perlman, the Peking Acrobats, Kodo and Lang Lang.Every week, three or four new acts are announced; recently, dates for singers Art Garfunkel and Vikki Carr were released.
Only "a handful" of 37 luxury boxes — priced at $200,000 to $1.5 million — still are available, Bugg said, and tickets sales are up and running at tobincenter.org.
"Most of the boxes have been bought by private individuals or their foundations, not corporations," he said. (He wouldn't reveal the name of the individual who sprung for the $1.5 million box.)
A nearby parking structure — a 50-year lease on First Baptist Church land half a block away — still is at least a year off.
Bugg said the city and county have agreed to contribute $5 million each, and the foundation's board has agreed to use up to $5 million in reserve funds to build the six-floor garage, which estimates now place in the $12 million to $14 million range.
By mid-July, acousticians from the Connecticut-based firm Akustiks will be fine-tuning the big hall as well as the intimate 250-seat studio theater — a jewel for smaller local performing groups.
Live musicians, from chamber groups to symphony musicians to rock bands, will be brought in to test the acoustics using various reflectors, baffles and curtains over the summer.
"The acousticians have been at the table since Day 1 in the design process and every step of the way in the building phase," Bugg said. "We promised the finest acoustics. We could have put 2,300 seats in here, but they told us it would sound better with 1,750. Acoustics is everything."
Then, in August, the hundreds of construction workers who have transformed the Tobin Center and their families will be invited to a "Hard-Hat Concert" with live country music.
"Then we can see what it sounds like with bodies in here," Fresher said.
San Antonio News Express
By Steve Bennett