May 4, 2010

Rivoli Theater becoming reality in Myrtle Beach
Group signs off on the designs on Wednesday

By Lorena Anderson - landerson@thesunnews.com

Though the city of Myrtle Beach has been focused for nine months on completing the boardwalk, it has another large project waiting in the wings.

The Rivoli Theater project, which calls for a performing arts center at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, is, as they say, shovel-ready.

Rivoli Theater group member Bob Pickett said an event planned for Wednesday, during which architect Steve Usry will officially sign off on his designs for the 700-seat performing arts complex, is meant to let people know the project is still active.

Two years ago, the city budgeted about $6 million for the basic center, leaving the Rivoli group to raise money to outfit the performance space to its specifications. Pickett said the nonprofit group's board has hired a Charleston-based fundraising consultant to handle that.

Several years ago, the group held a fund drive that brought in more than $600,000, auctioning hand-decorated carousel horses, some of which can still be seen around town. That money was going to be contributed to the new performing arts center, but the group chose to hire a theater manager and fundraisers instead.

The carousel-horse auction was held when the group had thought it could still work with the old Rivoli Theatre on Chestnut Street, a building that has been through several incarnations. The old theater would need too many renovations to make it usable, and it has no dedicated parking, the city has said, so the group and the city decided the convention center would be a better option.

The city has said it will sell the Chester Street building and give the money to the Rivoli group, knocking down the amount the group must raise, said city manager Tom Leath.

The city has been waiting for the market to improve to try and sell the building, hoping to get about $800,000.

Whatever the final cost estimate, the Rivoli group will be responsible for raising anything over the $6.8 million the city has budgeted, and Leath said the city cannot go forward with construction until the group has the cash in hand or firm pledges.

"With our current budget situation, we are not going to be able to front any of the money or loan the Rivoli group any money," Leath said. "So the question is, how quickly can they raise the money?"

Pickett estimated the group will raise $2 million. The basic performance space could be used for convention speakers, workshops and seminars, but to make it work for live performances, the Rivoli group wants more fly-space, theatrical lighting and sound, dressing rooms, a lobby and other additions.

Usry has designed a building that will stand behind the convention center so the theater can share parking, loading and unloading zones, and even some staff with the center.

He said the new theater would stand on what is now a parking lot, and the current handicap parking spaces would be moved over so access will remain the same.

The new theater will help the city meet its stated requirement to have doubled in size to become a 200,000- square-foot convention center by 2014. If the expansion hasn't taken place, Myrtle Beach will have to give back about $7 million it received from the state and used to buy land for the expansion. Leath said the 30,000 square feet in the new performing arts center should contribute to the expansion's total.

Usry said the plan-signing is the Rivoli group's way of observing a milestone in a process that has been going on for several years now.
"They've invested a good bit of their money in this and they are excited," he said. "They want everyone to know we're much farther down the road than we've ever been."

Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.

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