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Foundation asking Mecklenburg for $4.2 million to help restore Carolina Theatre

Susan Gray of Foundation for the Carolinas walks through the balcony at the Carolina Theatre in uptown Charlotte last year.
Susan Gray of Foundation for the Carolinas walks through the balcony at the Carolina Theatre in uptown Charlotte last year. tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

The Foundation for the Carolinas is slated to ask Mecklenburg County commissioners on Tuesday for a $4.2 million grant that would be used solely to restore historical elements in the 88-year-old Carolina Theatre uptown.

The theater, vacant since 1978 and now a largely gutted structure, was turned over to the foundation by Charlotte City Council two years ago to restore as a civic arts facility and community gathering space. The foundation paid $1 for the theater and property.

“County funding will help add components to the project that will make the facility truly exceptional,” foundation President and CEO Michael Marsicano wrote commissioners in late June.

Those components, Marsicano wrote, would include technology, pit lifts to enlarge the theater’s stage, restoring and replicating historical elements and enhancing seat quality.

The restoration is expected to begin in the first three months of 2016, he said. The foundation is asking for four equal quarterly payments beginning in the second quarter of 2016.

In its day, the theater at 230 N. Tryon St. was Charlotte’s offering for grandness. For decades, it was the flagship of the city’s entertainment venues, drawing celebrities such as Bob Hope and Elvis.

But as uptown’s retail moved to the suburbs in the 1970s, so, too, did movie theaters and entertainment. Yet it didn’t take long for some to realize what the city had lost in the Carolina Theatre, and groups sprang up to restore it and return it to Charlotte’s entertainment scene.

We anticipate that the revitalization of the theater will increase the value of adjacent county properties (the main public library and Spirit Square) as well as generate additional seat tax revenues from performances and events.

Michael Marsicano, Foundation for the Carolinas

Marsicano said the restored theater would be Charlotte’s premier historic venue and a “catalytic signature project” to redevelop North Tryon Street. The foundation plans to build its headquarters conjoining the theater, creating a “thriving hub for civic activities,” he said.

Initially, the foundation had asked Mecklenburg for $3.7 million, but it amended that request by $500,000 to return six historic murals that were in the balcony (at a cost of $300,000) and return the original marquee to the exterior ($200,000).

“We anticipate that the revitalization of the theater will increase the value of adjacent county properties (the main public library and Spirit Square) as well as generate additional seat tax revenues from performances and events,” Marsicano said in his letter.

Commissioners will discuss and vote on the request at their Tuesday meeting.

County Manager Dena Diorio said Saturday that she will urge commissioners to support the request and fund the money. “I think it’s a tremendous asset that this community has,” she said. “We can restore it and make it something grand again.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

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