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UNCSA's Stevens Center Performance Hall to Close in Fall for Renovations

Wed April 05, 2023 - Southeast Edition
Winston-Salem Journal

Originally a 1929 silent movie theatre, the Stevens Center is a neoclassical building located in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C. (Photo courtesy of University of North Carolina School of the Arts)
Originally a 1929 silent movie theatre, the Stevens Center is a neoclassical building located in downtown Winston-Salem, N.C. (Photo courtesy of University of North Carolina School of the Arts)

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) said March 22 that it plans to close the historic Stevens Center arts venue in mid-November to begin the first phase of the hall's renovation plan.

The university owns the 77,500-sq.-ft. performing arts center in downtown Winston-Salem at the corner of Fourth and Marshall streets.

The improved Stevens Center could reopen between summer 2025 and early 2026, although UNCSA announced in a news release "we would hope to receive funding for Phase II on a timeframe that would allow Phase II efforts to overlap with Phase I completion as much as possible."

The 1,366-seat center debuted in 1929 in a neoclassical-style building that was restored and reopened in 1983 with a new stage and backstage that was able to house Broadway-scale live performances of music, theater, dance and opera.

The already-beautiful facility will continue to host events until the renovation work begins, according to the Journal. Details about alternate venues for the UNCSA performance season following the building closure will be announced later.

The first task for the design and architecture teams of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting in Charlotte, and Steinberg Hart of Los Angeles, is redesigning the lobby to "create a more expansive, transformative experience for patrons, and bring the Stevens Center in line with modern theaters of today, while making efforts to retain the 1929 building's historic character."

Delia Nevola, managing principal with Steinberg Hart, said the firm has spent recent months helping to "establish guiding principles for this transformational renovation."

The renovated lobby, she explained, will feature a more "fluid entry for audiences and visitors, as well as increased accessibility and amenities. Improvements focused on patron comfort, such as renovated restrooms and updated concession spaces, also will be included."

Phase I also will tackle critical repairs to the exterior of the building to address water intrusion and ensure it is watertight.

Those fixes will include replacing the roof, restoring the brick exterior, terracotta façade and windows, and making improvements to back-of-house spaces, including the dressing rooms and green room.

Melanie Reddrick, executive principal-in-charge at Little, said Phase I "strives to execute some critical building envelope repairs that will allow the Stevens Center to serve the city for years to come."

Upon completion of those repairs, Phase II will focus on interior renovations, which would include enhancements to audience seating and the stage, as well as a reconfigured balcony with improved sightlines. Technological improvements are planned to allow students and partners to work with equipment that meets current industry standards.

"Creating a world-class performance venue for our student artists and community partners is our top priority," UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole said.

UNCSA announced last August that Winston-Salem's Frank L. Blum Construction Co. and W.C. Construction Co. would be the project managers for the first phase of the renovation, which is likely to take about three years. W.C. Construction, a minority-owned, Historically Underutilized Business-certified firm, has been in business for 16 years.

Renovations to Stevens Center Conceived Years Ago

A primary renovation plan for the Stevens Center was approved by the UNCSA Board of Trustees in September 2017.

Then-UNCSA Chancellor Lindsay Bierman said at the time that the plan provided a detailed analysis of existing conditions at the venue, reflected the "must-haves" of most campus and community stakeholders, and outlined realistic cost estimates to bring the Stevens Center up to current industry standards and building codes.

Construction and other items, including furnishings, new rigging systems, lighting and audio/visual equipment were projected to cost $35.2 million.

UNCSA said that the current architectural team has developed new design plans but has also referred to the 2017 concept plan.

State Has Approved Funds for Venue Upgrades

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, told the Journal that even though it took years to get funding for the renovation into the state budget, the inclusion represented a recognition "that the Stevens Center has served our community well and is a shining example of our commitment to the arts and educational programs.

"However, it is in need of repairs and updating," he admitted.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that the Forsyth County legislative delegation was able to secure $29.8 million for the project in the 2021-22 state budget. UNCSA has requested an added $51 million for Phase II that is contained in the UNC System budget recently approved by its Board of Governors. Those monies will allow UNCSA to complete the comprehensive renovation of the Stevens Center.

The nationally recognized UNCSA is receiving input from the community for the renovation project, as well as partner organizations such as the Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera and the National Black Theatre Festival, among others, that call the Stevens Center home.

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