Council members question Gaillard input 

Wilson notes that plans seem Spoleto-centric

Charleston City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson has apparently had her fill of Spoleto, at least when it comes to the $142 million renovation of the Gaillard Auditorium. A federal grant application this week includes several references to the town's partnership with the 17-day festival.

Wilson told her fellow council members last week that she was tired of seeing Spoleto referenced in connection to the project.

"The Gaillard is a municipal auditorium, and everything I'm seeing coming out has 'Spoleto' all over it," Wilson said. "I'm still for the project, but that's a growing concern."

The city is seeking $200,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to pay for design and planning work for the large open space. The application received unanimous approval from all council members, including Wilson.

The city has pledged $71 million toward the renovation, during which the more than 40-year-old Gaillard Auditorium will be renamed the Gaillard Center, but private donations are expected to make up the other half. Spoleto Chairwoman Martha Rivers Ingram has personally given $20 million to the project, and Ingram and other festival supporters are playing an active role in finding the remaining $51 million. Spoleto's reputation will also likely carry some weight in the NEA application and other efforts for grant funding.

Wilson's concerns about the seemingly excessive emphasis on Spoleto in the grant prompted City Councilman Aubrey Alexander to question the status of the overall renovation.

"I feel somewhat in a fog about the project," he says. "I'm not seeing a whole lot of information."

Several City Council members, including Mike Seekings, Dudley Gregorie, and Dean Riegel, were involved in selecting the contractor and architect for the project. But Alexander is concerned that City Council will not have a say in the management of the facility once construction is complete. "This looks like an opportunity for some type of professional management," he says.

In response to the questions, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said he will bring an update to the council's Special Facilities Committee.

The Charleston Civic Design Center, the city's urban planning arm, has taken a leadership role in the development of the project. At the meeting, Director Michael Maher said that the Gaillard renovation is still on schedule to break ground next summer and reopen in fall 2014.

The funding from the NEA will help the city find an artistic use for the large lawn facing Calhoun Street. With arts playing such an important role in the Gaillard Center's overall vision, the area could offer space for outdoor performances, statues, and other permanent art displays.

Maher noted that when Marion Square was redeveloped, the city built in the infrastructure to support festivals and the local farmers market — things like electrical outlets and access for loading and unloading. A similar effort is needed at the Gaillard Center to make the lawn functional.

"It's fair to say the space doesn't support anything really well right now," Maher says. The Civic Design Center hosted the popular art forum Pecha Kucha last year on the lawn, but it required organizers to bring in a screen, find power sources, and make other preparations. "We had to create everything," Maher says.

If the NEA grants the city funds to design the open space in front of the Gaillard, the Charleston Civic Design Center will seek input from the surrounding neighborhood and local artists and performers.


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