By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
The Hoover City Council has approved a plan to study the cost of developing a performance arts and community center.
The city contracted with Live Design Group of Birmingham and Theatre DNA of Los Angeles to find potential locations for the building and propose a design concept for the center, including details such as the capacity, parking and proposed features and amenities.
According to Councilor Curt Posey, who is the council’s liaison for the Hoover City Arts Council, this is a major milestone years in the making.
Discussions about the development of a performing arts and community center have been on the table in Hoover since about 2008, Posey said.
When Macy’s consolidated into the former Rich’s department store at the Riverchase Galleria, the council considered using the space now occupied by Von Maur as a community and performing arts facility.
“When the discussion came back to the forefront during the 2016 election, I sat down with several local artists’ groups to talk about their experiences and what was truly needed to put Hoover on the map as a destination for arts and culture within the southeast,” he said. “From those discussions, and additional discussions with fellow council members and the mayor, we felt like the first step should be to create a city Arts Council to provide a conduit between the city administration and the arts community.”
Building the council took about a year, and in 2017 the Hoover Arts Council was established to use research and community outreach to develop ways to better provide art experiences to the public.
With Posey representing the council and Hoover Library Fine Arts Director Matina Johnson consulting, the arts council is composed of fine arts professionals, business owners and community volunteers, including former Hoover City Schools college admissions counselor Paulette Pearson, artist Sandra Fuller, Hoover Arts Alliance co-founder Linda Chastain, Bluff Park Art Association President Julie Preskitt, Alabama Dance Academy owner Pam Sayle and Birmingham Boys Choir operations manager Tricia Simpson.
Hoover Arts Community Underserved
“Within the research and community outreach that has been conducted by the Arts Council, we found a glaring statistic in regard to performance space within our city versus the number of performance groups within our city,” Posey said.
“I don’t think most realized that as our city grew over the past 50+ years, we have more performing arts-based businesses and schools per mile than any city in the state of Alabama.”
For example, Posey noted that, while there are two major dance studios within minutes from each other along U.S. 31, there is no dedicated space in the city for their students and staff to perform. Hoover art schools and companies often have to venture outside of Hoover to host recitals and showcase their work to the public.
“Why not find a way to showcase homegrown talent within our own city and allow the city to benefit from the direct and indirect revenue generated from these activities?” Posey said.
A performing arts center can also act as a catalyst for redevelopment, he noted, bringing in visitors from surrounding communities and beyond. He’s seen it work firsthand in other communities as the father of a dancer. He has traveled with his kids to competitions held at performing arts spaces throughout Alabama as well as other states.
“In the case of our city, we are blessed to have the infrastructure in place in terms of hotels and retail outlets, and we do have growth opportunities for redevelopment,” he said. “I think a performing arts center will only enhance the infrastructure we have in place and will provide a world of opportunity for the arts in like manner as the Finley Center has for youth sports.”
One of the Arts Council’s first successes as they continued to work on the arts center concept involved arranging with the Birmingham Children’s Theatre to host performances of the 2018 production of “Alice in Wonderland” at the Galleria.
The council has since been asked to provide input on the design of the Village Green amphitheater, part of the Village Green entertainment district being constructed at the Stadium Trace Village development. The amphitheater will serve as an outdoor concert venue with a projected 1,200-person capacity.
“The Arts Council also is looking at yet another live performance opportunity at the Galleria that should be announced very soon,” Posey said.
The recent approval to hire Live and TheatreDNA was a long-awaited step.
Posey noted that it took two years for the arts council, mayor and City Council to choose the two vendors, which they believe are the best in the business as well as the best options for the city’s vision.
A resolution to fund agreements with the two companies was unanimously passed by the City Council in March 2020. Then along came COVID-19.
At the next City Council meeting, Posey recalls, models showed a potential $15 million hole in the city’s budget due to shutdowns and other pandemic effects. Thus, the agreements with Live and TheatreDNA were tabled.
“Everything finally came back together in July and now it’s full speed ahead,” Posey said.
“To say I’m excited would be an understatement, and as odd as it sounds, I do think the pandemic helped because it reminded us all of the importance of fellowship and the energy that comes from congregation,” Posey said.
“If we can provide a place that helps foster togetherness and community, exposes our residents to arts and culture from around the world and showcases our homegrown talent by giving them a place to perform, then we have accomplished our mission,” he said.