This column ran in the Scottsdale Republic this morning. Unfortunately, the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts has in recent years fallen far short of the lofty ambitions which built it, despite tens of millions of taxpayer dollars of remodeling and taxpayer subsidies to the private Scottsdale Cultural Council which manages it under a 20-year, no-bid contract.
How Scottsdale decided to build a performing arts center
When I was on the Scottsdale City Council in the 1970s, Scottsdale was growing. Cultural efforts were growing as well, but they were disconnected and lacked facilities, leadership and coordination.
Several public meetings were held to discuss the issue. The city needed to determine how much support there was for the arts. We decided we needed to develop a facility that would serve our citizens, visitors and cultural groups.
As City Manager Dale Carter and his staff began digesting the results of these meetings, it became obvious this would be a big project.
The community was telling us we needed a major performing arts center. But what type, the layout, who would be the main users and what should be included were all questions yet to be answered. There were far more questions than answers.
As all public bodies do at such times, Scottsdale hired experts to study the issue and advise us. The consultants recommended several venues nationally they felt staff and council members should see and study.
They gave us a range of how such a facility might be used: for Phoenix Symphony concerts, traveling Broadway shows, operas, pop bands, and piano and other instrumental concerts. The staff and council members were impressed with the potential for a performing arts center in Scottsdale. Staff told us that as many as 300 cultural events annually might be possible if the community support was there. Projections were that the number of performances would grow as Scottsdale grew and residents became more accustomed to accessing cultural events in their city.
In addition to a main stage, the consultants suggested we also build a 200seat secondary theater for smaller events, including the showing of classic movies.
Mayor Bud Tims and the council members listened to all the ideas offered by staff, the public and our consultants. And like any citizen group, our thoughts were as varied as the opinions being offered.
The council was divided into subcommittees, joined by staff, and sent on the road to look at facilities around the country.
I went to San Francisco, Monterey, Calif., Minneapolis and Oklahoma City. Other council members went to Indianapolis, New York and other cities. Everywhere we visited, there were folks on hand for provide tours, to tell us what worked and what didn’t and answer our many questions.
After our travels and all our research, we were much closer in our thinking about what Scottsdale needed. Over the next few weeks, we developed a plan for Scottsdale’s Performing Arts Center. It would have about 750 seats, a sloping floor, a high ceiling with a topnotch (and expensive) sound system, a small 200-seat side auditorium, dressing rooms, a separate practice stage and a large foyer to accommodate various events.
Since architect Benny Gonzales had designed City Hall and the Library next door to where the arts center would be located, we felt he should design the new building as well. We also decided to make the south half of the building into city office space, thus filling two needs with one structure.
The building has enhanced Scottsdale’s cultural reputation and brought national and international talent to the city for the enjoyment of citizens and winter visitors. It helped establish Scottsdale as a national cultural center.
Reared on a local dairy farm, former Scottsdale city councilman (1971-76), state legislator (1979-85) and oral historian Paul Messinger founded Messinger Mortuaries in 1959. Reach him at 480-860-2300 or 480-945-9521.
I happened to have friends visit this summer who used to live here but moved to New England. We had lunch at Los Olivos and then went to walk on the Civic Center Mall. When we got to the Center for the Arts, they loved the gift store and then we entered the lobby of the Center for the Arts……..not a peep did I make. They said nothing. Then, after several minutes the gentleman, an artist, said, “What the hell happened? This place used to be inviting and lively even when there was nothing going on. It was a people place, not an elitist enclave.” Then he said, “The Cultural Council did this. I just bet that they were the ones who pushed this through ignoring the artists and the performers and the people. Shoved it through.”