Tobin Center Opens As New San Antonio Downtown Landmark; Performing Arts Home With 'Something for Everyone'
September 4, 2014
The opening of the new facility culminates a nearly seven-year process that re-purposed the city's downtown Municipal Auditorium into a new home for San Antonio's performing arts groups as well as a full, diverse schedule of national and international bookings.
The Tobin Center, located on San Antonio's River Walk, features three performance venues — the 1,750-seat H-E-B Performance Hall, the 250-seat Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater and the outdoor River Walk Plaza, which seats 600. Guests can arrive in the traditional way by car or by water taxi at The Tobin's "second front door" on the River Walk.
Designed by LMN Architects of Seattle in partnership with San Antonio architectural firm Marmon Mok, The Tobin Center combines the historic façade of the old auditorium with a landmark design that completely covers the new building with a metallic, LED-lit "veil" — known as the AT&T Sky Wall. That design has created a unique structure that turns heads and adds another spark for the city's downtown renaissance.
The new facility is named in honor of the late San Antonio arts patron and philanthropist Robert L. B. Tobin.
"San Antonio has waited a long time for this and now the wait is over," said J. Bruce Bugg Jr., Founder and Chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation which owns and operates 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."
County Judge Nelson W. Wolff and Former Mayor Phil Hardberger join Bugg as the Co-Founders of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
"It's an outstanding design that not only takes full advantage of our location on the River Walk but creates a sense of excitement and anticipation just by the look alone," Bugg said. "The architectural team did a wonderful job for us."
"The Tobin Center is the perfect example of a public/private partnership where everybody really does their part," he said.
"I am honored to have worked with County Judge Nelson Wolff and then-Mayor Phil Hardberger from the very beginning. We began conceptualizing this project in the fall of 2007 and that led to a Bexar County bond issue vote in May 2008 which resulted in voters giving overwhelming approval to $100 million in bonds toward the construction of a new performing arts center," Bugg said. "The City followed in June of that year by deeding to our Foundation the Municipal Auditorium and old Fire Department headquarters, valued at $41 million, and we then embarked on a private fundraising campaign that to date has brought in more than $50 million in gifts."
"That effort has enabled us to create a facility that not only has the acoustics that all performers and audiences want, but enables us to build an economic model based on multiple uses of our three venues that maximizes The Tobin for the community's benefit," he said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said, "In 2007, Phil Hardberger, who was then Mayor, and I asked Bruce Bugg to form a foundation that could construct, operate and own a new performing arts center. Bruce did that right away, so that, once Bexar voters approved the bond issue and the City deeded over the buildings and property, we could move forward without losing a step. Bruce shepherded it along throughout the entire process of design, construction and fundraising. 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."
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor said, "Standing here today is almost like being in a dream--this beautiful and innovative building, the way San Antonio has embraced the importance of the arts to our community's future, and the way the public and private sectors have pulled together. It's almost like a dream, but better. When we wake up tomorrow, this fabulous center will still be here. The Tobin Center is not only an instant cultural landmark, it is an enduring reminder of one man's generosity, and a testament to the hard work of individuals like Nelson Wolff, Bruce Bugg and Phil Hardberger who have worked for years to make this dream a reality."
Former Mayor Phil Hardberger, who now is also Vice Chairman of the Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation, noted, "Nelson and I had a vision for a performing arts center befitting the nation's seventh-largest city, and in Bruce Bugg, we picked the right person to spearhead the effort. 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."
The Tobin Center's H-E-B Performance Hall has a unique, flexible floor — the only one of its kind in the United States. This special feature can change from the traditional raked theater seating to a flat floor for banquets and other events, or to cabaret seating or other configurations in just 23 minutes with the literal push of a button.
There is also a full catering kitchen in the basement so that banquets, receptions, corporate meetings, as well as concessions during performances can be handled easily and with diverse menus and preparations.
"These capabilities give us extraordinary flexibility in what we can do here," Bugg said, "and they really make The Tobin unique in that it will have many hundreds of uses during a year with 'dark' days or nights being very rare."
Dark nights will indeed be rare. The Tobin Center has 10 resident companies – including symphony, opera, ballet, chamber orchestra, theater, choral and youth music/theater organizations. In addition, in just its first 60 days after opening, The Tobin, with a theme of "something for everyone," will host a performance schedule that includes rock, pop, Broadway shows, Latin stars, comedians, folksingers and children's shows.
President and CEO of The Tobin is Michael J. Fresher, who joined The Tobin Center in May 2013 from The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT.
Chairman of the Building Committee for the Foundation Board is Steven Q. Lee. Project Manager is The Projects Group of Fort Worth. Construction of The Tobin Center is handled by a joint venture of Houston-based Linbeck Group and Zachry Construction Corporation of San Antonio.
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