August 6, 2010

Downtown Myrtle Beach arts center moves closer to reality
By Lorena Anderson - landerson@thesunnews.com

Plans for a new performing arts center in Myrtle Beach continue to move forward, though it will still be a while before anyone sees shovels hit dirt.

The organization formerly known as the Rivoli Theater group has changed its name to the Myrtle Beach Performing Arts Center, and is focused on raising $2.5 million to complete the center the city has agreed to spend $6 million to build at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.

But the fundraising hasn't gone public just yet, said Anna Smith, senior campaign manager for fundraising firm Winkler Consultants of Mount Pleasant. Smith said a three-part, 12-month fundraising campaign has already been launched by forming a performing arts center steering committee made up of community and arts-community leaders.

Committee members, consultants and others will help with phase two, to spread the word among the area's biggest givers, explaining the project to them and trying to gather the "leadership gifts" that are necessary for plans to be realized, she said.

The group plans one-on-one meetings with potential donors and a series of invitation-only "education and awareness" events, beginning with one at the Surf Club in North Myrtle Beach on Aug. 26. People will see a video so they can get an idea of what their money will build, hear a presentation and get to ask questions.

By late winter or early spring, Smith said, the group aims to have raised about $1.25 million, or about 60 percent of the total, and will roll out the fundraising campaign to residents.

Public donations are critical to the project's success, but people also like to know they are giving their money to a viable cause.

When they see how much has already been raised, they are more likely to want to get involved.

Once the group has raised its $2.5 million, the city has promised to issue bonds to raise $6 million, to refund the group about $380,000 for architect drawings, and give the group money that equals the estimated value of the old Rivoli theater on Chestnut Street - a building not suited for live theater productions.

The city agreed to build the basic performing arts center space, but the theater group must raise the money to outfit the venue for its needs - lighting and sound, theater-quality seating, added fly-space for larger productions and other special requirements.

Performing Arts Director Dale Vivirito said the message the group wants residents along the Grand Strand to know is that the performing arts center will be in Myrtle Beach, but it will be for everyone.

He said he has been talking with officials at Horry-Georgetown Technical College about teaching technical theater classes there, and with officials at Coastal Carolina University about having summer stock performances there.

"It would be great, at the height of tourist season, to have shows for people to attend," he said.

Carolina Improv has expressed interest in using the black-box theater inside the center, and Carolina Master Chorale wants to call the center its home, Vivirito said.

Vivirito will also book national touring productions of popular shows.

Convention groups will have access to the 880-seat auditorium for guest lectures and classes, and Paul Edwards, general manager at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, said groups likely will alter their convention plans specifically to use the space.

"We're sure we can maximize the use," Edwards said.

Contact LORENA ANDERSON at 444-1722.

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