The firm hired to explore the feasibility of a new performing arts center for Waco came away with one question answered at a Monday night listening session: There’s a lot of interest in the subject.
A feedback session with five consultants involved in the Keen Independent Research study drew more than 80 attendees, filling the Cooper Foundation house’s living room and spilling over into two adjoining rooms.
Response to the firm’s online Virtual Workshop topped expectations as well, with some 170 respondents — more than double the anticipated response — completing an online survey.
The Waco City Council approved the research firm, with offices in Phoenix, Arizona, and Denver, Colorado, to conduct a feasibility study for a possible multipurpose cultural facility. Monday’s public meeting was the second Waco visit for the firm after a four-day visit in October.
Lead consultant Alex Keen told his audience Monday night that the study would be wide-ranging, encompassing demographic trends, existing facilities, needs of arts organizations and their audiences, construction and operational cost, the financial base needed to support the project and more.
As a result, the more opinions and comments heard from Waco the better.
“We never expect a performing arts center to be doing just one thing,” he said. “All your opinions matter.”
Attending the Monday meeting, hosted by the city and arts nonprofit Creative Waco, on the consulting side were Keen and Jennifer Tuchband from Keen Independent Research; Victor Gotesman and Teresa Koberstein of Victor Gotesman Performing Arts Facilities Planning; and Robert Long, consultant with Theatre Consultants Collaborative.
Venue Cost Consultants, the fourth participating firm in the study, didn’t have a representative at the feedback meeting.
On the attending side were representatives and supporters of nearly a dozen Waco arts organizations and groups as well as Waco City Council members John Kinnaird and Hector Sabido, McLennan Community College president Johnette McKown, District 56 State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, and District 56 candidate Katherine Turner-Pearson.
Keen summarized the areas the study’s partners would examine: Keen Independent, the project’s lead firm, the economics of a proposed center; Victor Gotesman Performing Arts Facilities Planning a facility’s operational costs and the management needed; Theatre Consultants Collaborative the design of a center meeting that meets the needs expressed; and Venue Cost Consultants the design and construction costs for such a building.
The lead consultant cautioned that any new facility should meet needs and fill gaps without overlapping existing venues or arts facilities. “We don’t want to break anything that’s already working,” he said.
At the same time, the project would try to anticipate what Waco needs in its future and that may be different than a facility imagined years earlier. “Waco is in a really interesting place right now. So much is changing,” he said.
In remarks after Keen’s introduction, Long said there’s renewed attention to the life and success of new performing arts facilities rather than simply a striking architectural design.
“There’s a really fundamental trend that buildings have to be financially sustainable,” he said, citing a University of Illinois study that urged planners and city leaders not to build for building’s sake.
Technology shapes what’s possible for a performing arts space, and part of the planning process involves anticipating future arts and entertainment needs rather than the comfort of “perpetuating 19th-century culture,” he said.
Keen consultant Jennifer Tuchband said her work so far has involved looking at demographic trends for Waco and the state, determining community participation through attendance figures from concerts and other events, and an “environmental scan” — an overview of existing arts and cultural facilities and venues. Waco, she noted, had a good range of facilities in terms of size and function.
Monday’s open house won’t be the last public meeting for input on the feasibility study. Keen anticipated some town hall meetings for the firm’s next Waco trip, possibly in mid- to late spring, when possible options are presented for audience reaction. After that, the firm may have its study completed sometime this summer, he said.