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Love is Blind

by Dennis Marsoun

July 3,2004

It’s not often that I disagree with preservation. The older I get, the more I enjoy seeing older things being productive or adapting to changing times.

I draw the line at the Carolina Theater.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it must have been a beautiful building, and much of the grace can still be seen in its large auditorium. The acoustics that remain in the theater are quite remarkable. The potential of such a building close to home is attractive as well.

My problem is that, at times, love is blind. A lover often does not see the warts, or peculiarities, in their beloved that they might notice in someone else.

The large venue movie theaters began changing long ago when multi-screen venues became the way to make money for theater chains. It became more a question of through-put and not style. In the old single screen theaters, the lobby would be dead while the picture was running. Now, the multiplex theaters, with staggered starting times, there is almost always activity in the lobby.

If a movie is particularly popular, it can be shown on multiple screens in the same multiplex, switching a reel at a time.

New live performance halls have also paid more attention to the performers. Dressing rooms and prep areas are more comfortable and convenient to the performers than they were during Vaudeville.

None of these are showstoppers, but they all contribute. The most significant drawback is the amount of time that the Caroline Theater has been vacant.

I don’t have the exact numbers, but let me use a broad brush to try to look at the economics of the situation. A proper renovation would cost something in the neighborhood of $25 million. When it is completed, it will sit on probably the second most expensive piece of dirt on Tryon Street, and it is owned by the City. No property taxes generated here!

As a single use facility, the only times it will be used will be when there is a live performance taking place, perhaps five nights a week, plus Saturday and Sunday matinees. Not a lot of real ticket revenue here!

We’re talking about expensive dirt two blocks from the Charlotte Arena. If we want the government to contribute to restoration, there should be payback other than knowing that a gem has been restored.

Compare that with the notion that Wachovia might be including a performing arts theater in a proposed new building on First and Tryon. Less expensive dirt, multiple use of the site, and generating activity in a section of town that needs it. From an investment position, the same dollars could recreate the essence of the Carolina Theater, only new, with changes incorporated for the changing requirements.

Finally, my belief is that when attending a live performing arts theater, the emphasis should be on the performer. I could tell you every song that Janis Joplin sang when I saw her live in Cleveland 35 years ago, but I can’t tell you a thing about the hall she sang in.

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