Curtain set to raise on new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts

September 4, 2014
The $203 million Tobin Center for the Performing Arts will officially open on Thursday and the transformed Municipal Auditorium will celebrate its christening with a combined performance by the San Antonio Symphony, Opera San Antonio and Ballet San Antonio.

It's been nearly 10 years since Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff first pitched the idea of San Antonio developing a world-class performing arts center. Back in January of 2005, he told me this was one of the priorities for the city's to-do list if San Antonio hoped to create the kind of quality of life needed to attract and retain top businesses and talent.

Now, after all these years, San Antonio can finally check this item off the list. The Tobin Center's opening concludes a seven-year process of repurposing a downtown landmark that needed new life. Now, a number of arts groups, including the San Antonio Symphony, have a new home.

It was Wolff, along with former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger, who asked Bruce Bugg Jr. in 2007 to form a foundation that could construct, operate and own a new performing arts center.

"Bruce shepherded (the project) along throughout the entire process of design, construction and fundraising," Wolff now says. "Today, that leadership has resulted in a sparkling new addition to our city and we are going to reap its benefits for decades to come."

Bugg, founder and chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, which owns and operates the Tobin Center, played an instrumental role, helping raise more than $50 million to date in private funding for the venue.

"San Antonio has waited a long time for this and now the wait is over," says Bugg about the opening of the Tobin Center. "We have taken an old building and turned it into the best place to see and hear a live performance, with three very flexible venues which can all be busy at the same time with different artists and events."

The Tobin Center complex includes the 1,750-seat H-E-B Performance Hall, the 250-seat Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater and an outdoor River Walk Plaza venue, which seats 600 spectators.

One of the more compelling features of the Tobin Center is its new linkage with the San Antonio River Walk.

The list of stars that will grace the Tobin Center stage in season one include legendary comedian Bill Cosby, Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Williams and 1960s icon Arlo Guthrie.

In May 2008, Bexar County voters approved a bond referendum which included $100 million for the transformation of Municipal Auditorium into the Tobin Center.

One month later, the City of San Antonio deeded the auditorium, along with the former Fire Department headquarters building located next to the facility, to the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation. That contribution of real estate was valued at $41 million.

"Nelson and I had a vision for a performing arts center befitting the nation's seventh-largest city," says Hardberger, who now serves as vice chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, about he and Wolff. "Now, as we open the Tobin, the quality of the final result is obvious and it demonstrates what can happen when you decide to work together toward a common goal.

"We have kept our focus and the result is a remarkable new asset for San Antonio," Hardberger adds.

San Antonio Business Journal
by W. Scott Bailey