The Chamber’s Keep it Local initiative promotes community support for local business ventures. Spending locally creates a strong economy and a sense of place which gives our town its unique lifestyle. The Keep it Local campaign will feature a different segment of businesses each month in 2018. February is Arts and Innovation Month.

The Stevens Center of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) will get a much-needed and long-overdue renovation, if Chancellor Lindsay Bierman has his way.

“Since its early days as a movie theater, the Stevens Center has enriched the cultural life of our community for nearly a century,” Bierman said. “Its transformation is vital not only to our students, but also to our local economy: It will stimulate further development downtown and attract new businesses to call Winston-Salem home.

“The Stevens Center defines our great city as much as it serves the university.”

The facility opened in 1929 as the Carolina Theatre, a 2,500-seat film and vaudeville venue anchoring an 11-story hotel, at the corner of Fourth and Marshall. It closed in 1975. In 1980, the building was donated to the School of the Arts by Piedmont Publishing, which owned the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel. The school renovated the facility at a cost of $9.6 million, funded by a combination of federal and state funds with private donations. It was dedicated on April 22, 1983.

In September 2017, UNCSA’s Board of Trustees approved a concept master plan, which lays the groundwork for turning the facility into a world-class performing arts venue that benefits the students who train and perform there; partner organizations such as the Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera and the National Black Theatre Festival; and the local economy.

The plan was developed by world-renowned Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) of New York in conjunction with DLR Group of Charlotte. RAMSA associates met with campus constituents, patrons and representatives of local arts and nonprofit organizations to research the facility and develop the plan, which includes:

  • Historic preservation of the building’s 1929 façade and restoration of original external elements including marquees and the corner blade sign;
  • Increasing two levels of seating to three (adding a “necklace-style” mezzanine composed of modular boxes), with more leg room and street-level access to orchestra-level seating;
  • Transformation of the main lobby (from 575 square feet to 1,760 square feet), concessions and amenities spaces to create street-to-seat access and adequate restroom facilities; and
  • Redesign of the upper floors in the “tower block” to accommodate offices and/or housing for graduate students or guest artists.

“Performing arts centers drive economic growth in cities,” Bierman said. “Here in the ‘City of Arts and Innovation,’ I’d like to see UNCSA lead the branding and development of a vibrant ‘Arts Quarter’ to complement what Wake Forest University has done so brilliantly and beautifully in the city’s Innovation Quarter.”

Bierman added: “We’re developing plans to expand and diversify our programming, and attract more people downtown and to Forsyth County. There would be a profound ripple effect through increased spending on restaurants, hotels, and parking. Our ‘Nutcracker’ performances alone attract more than 13,000 audience members a year, which drives hospitality revenue downtown.”

UNCSA is currently conducting a market study, and will then seek to identify funding from a combination of state, city and county sources, in addition to individual donors and foundations. “We can’t count on state funding alone to cover the costs. We’ll only get this done as a public-private partnership,” Bierman said.

RAMSA estimates a project cost of $35.2 million, which does not include the cost of acquisition for any properties not currently owned by UNCSA.

Concept plan renderings: