Wednesday, March 15 it was announced that the groundbreaking for the Steven B. Tanger Center for the Performing Arts would be Wednesday, April 26.

President of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro Walker Sanders said that he expected them to start moving dirt on April 27. So this is not a fake groundbreaking to buy time, but a real groundbreaking that marks the beginning of the construction phase of the project.

Sanders said that the project was about three months behind schedule and that the permitting process had taken longer than anticipated.

This is the same thing you hear from just about everyone involved in a major construction project in Greensboro. The City of Greensboro has, according to some developers, a permitting process that seems designed to discourage construction.

What makes this entertaining is that the city’s own project has been caught in its own bureaucracy. At least it proves that no one gets special treatment.

Sanders said part of the delay was because the building was so complex that what seemed to be a relatively small change would cause a ripple effect resulting in far more changes than anticipated.

Carroll at Bellemeade, the $60 million hotel and apartment development currently being built on North Eugene Street, had the permits held up so long that city councilmembers had to get involved to get the project moving.

The News & Record has run big stories about the delay in construction on the Tanger Center, implying that there were serious problems. It appears the News & Record folks have been reading and believing some bloggers in town who push the theory that the entire Tanger Center project is some type of huge conspiracy – a conspiracy to do exactly what is a little sketchy, but evidently it’s bad.

Even the announcement in the News & Record about the groundbreaking had a tone of disbelief and raised doubts about it being a real groundbreaking.

It is true that the Tanger Center project, which was conceived in 2012, has not kept to the original timetable. But a lot of time was spent getting community input, and developing the financing strategy and governing model. Once that was done, another delay was caused by the fact that the donors – who have put up $38.5 million – didn’t think a $60 million building could be built for $40 million.

Sanders said the donors didn’t want to compromise on quality and the city didn’t want to compromise on size. He said, “We reached a compromise where the city has the size it needs to have and we have maintained the quality that we need to have.”

Sanders said, “It’s been a healthy partnership. But in any kind of partnership you’re going to have disagreements.”

Sanders said that in December the goal was to have the groundbreaking by May, and it’s been moved up a month, which should be good news. He also said that the current goal was to open in the spring of 2019, and depending on delays during construction, such as bad weather, it looked like they were on schedule.

Sanders said that the site work would be done while the state permitting process was taking place so that when the construction contracts were awarded the site would be ready for construction to start.

It is interesting that, depending on how you look at it, the project is either three months behind schedule or two years behind schedule.

When the whole idea for a downtown performing arts center was conceived in 2012, the talk had been of replacing the War Memorial Auditorium on the Greensboro Coliseum Complex despite the fact that two bond referendums to do that had failed.

Robbie Perkins who was mayor at the time, suggested that the business community would be willing to pay the difference in the cost of building the new performing arts center if it were downtown instead of on land the city already owned at the Coliseum.

At the time, the off-the-cuff estimate of what was needed to be raised was about $10 million. It turned out that a lot more than $10 million could be raised. Through the Greensboro Community Foundation more than $38.5 million has been raised. And because they are paying for half of the cost, those donors bought a seat at the table on planning the project.

One holdup early on was that there were not the votes on the City Council to pay for the performing arts center with tax dollars. So the City Council came up with a plan to pay the city’s share, $39.6 million, with hotel-motel tax revenue and parking and ticket fees.

So if it all works, the Tanger Center will be paid for with about half the money coming directly from donors and much of the rest coming from people who use the Tanger center in the form of parking fees and a ticket fee, with the remainder coming from people who visit the city, and none from city taxes.

Coming up with the whole funding mechanism meant creating a partnership with competing interests. When the costs came in much higher than anticipated, the city wanted to reduce the quality of the building and the donors wanted keep the quality but reduce the seating capacity. It took a while to work that out so that each side was satisfied.

Sanders said that he didn’t know of another 3,000-seat performing arts center with the flexibility that the Tanger Center will have.

The City Council should finally realize that if the city can’t get its own projects approved in a timely manner, then the contractors and developers who have been complaining for years aren’t crying wolf, but have legitimate issues.

The city employees who deal with permitting need an attitude adjustment and some simple changes could make a huge difference, but that is never going to happen unless the City Council gets involved and orders that changes be made.

If the City Council doesn’t step in and establish a policy on permitting, the next big project that comes along will be delayed for months, not to anyone’s benefit but because the city has the power to do it.

 

Parisian Promenade at Bicentennial Garden