PAC expansion revamped

  • This artists rendering shows what an expanded Highlands Performing Arts Center may look like once the project is complete.
    This artists rendering shows what an expanded Highlands Performing Arts Center may look like once the project is complete.

The Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center has been busy this year, despite having to shelve nearly all of its 2020 performance schedule due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

The PAC Board of Directors, along with the PAC Building Committee, announced this week what they call a more realistic and viable vision for the theater’s expansion project. 

“We’ve had some delays in our theater building project,” said building committee chairman Wade Coleman, who assumed leadership of the committee about six months ago. “The architectural plans were a little bit too detailed and overdone for us to build within our budgetary constraints.”

The PAC decided to regroup and cut down on the size of the “Phase two” expansion project to something more feasible and more affordable, Coleman said.

“We decided to take a whole new look at the project, which we did, and we decided to cut down on the size of the building,” he said. “We reduced the seating capacity in the new theater from 400 seats to 300, and eliminated the black box theater. We are now ready to move forward and we have a construction plan… and a timeline.”

The design portion of phase two should be complete by spring of 2021, Coleman said, with construction tentatively set to begin next June. The building committee hopes to have construction of the new theater complete by June of 2022.

“We have a definite plan now,” Coleman said. “We have a plan we can build. We have something that will be great for the community and will be just what we need for the community.”

Those features left off the revised expansion plan include the proposed black box theater that would have housed movies and be a potential future home for the Highlands Playhouse. 

“We took out the black box theater, that was one of the first reductions… and it’s not abandoned completely, but we are abandoning it for now,” Coleman said.

The PAC has the land available for a future black box theater should the need arise, with the passing of social distancing restrictions of COVID-19 and the resumption of movies being run out of the Highlands Playhouse. Part of the expansion plans include relocating the Playhouse from its present Oak Street location to the PAC grounds. 

“Whenever the Playhouse is ready to run movies again, we have enough room in our main theater to accommodate them,” said PAC Executive Director Mary Adair Trumbly. “We also have our portable outdoor movie screen.”

Current plans are to continue to host outdoor movies in the parking lot while the weather allows it.  

“We’re going to run the drive-in movies until the end of November, or until it gets cold,” Trumbly said. “Or, if it’s not cold and doing okay, we’ll probably move on and keep going until it gets too cold.” 

Trumbly said the portable screen takes about a half hour to assemble and take down and could be set up.

Coleman said there isn’t an urgent need for the black box theater right now. 

“It depends on a lot of things,” he said. “I think this theater will work fine for the movies and I don’t think we’re going to need it. I would rather devote the money to having an outdoor-type area. We have the land for it… a beautiful area with a stage and have concerts outdoors, like Chastain Park.” 

The cost of the theater expansion will be in ballpark of $8-9 million, with the design phase being completed in the next couple of months. 

“Construction should begin sometime around June of 2021 with an anticipated completion date of June, 2022,” Coleman said. 

Rick Trevathan, President of the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center said the PAC takes its stewardship the community’s donations and contributions very seriously and wants to provide a facility that would accommodate the plateau’s fine arts for years to come.

“The PAC wants to make sure that for decades to come, you will be entertained in a facility that will bring a smile to your face each time you enter it,” he said in a recent written statement.