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Performing Arts Center

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A new PAC was proposed about a year ago and should start construction once the proposed Ballroom is complete.

The PAC will be south of Bartle Hall (on the current ballroom) and will feature 3 uniquely shaped buildings.

The following article shows there were concerns about the size, but more recent news announced all three "humps" will be built.

Posted on Sun, Oct. 05, 2003

Performing arts center raises controversy about size


The Kansas City Star

The board of the performing arts center has decided to build a 1,200-seat orchestra hall in the proposed center specifically for the Kansas City Symphony.

The decision, reached in mid-September, has met with mixed reviews.

"Relief, followed by dismay" as one Kansas City Symphony player described it.

Relief because the new plan includes a dedicated orchestra hall. An earlier one did not. Dismay because with only 1,200 seats, the hall will be, by far, one of the smallest of any major orchestra in the country.

While many are upbeat about its prospects, others fear it may be too small for repertoire requiring large orchestra and chorus.

What's more, artists here and elsewhere argue that a hall with so few seats could choke off the Symphony's ability to grow.

"Twelve hundred is smaller than anything I've heard of," said Joel Levine, music director of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, which plays in a recently renovated, multipurpose 2,400-seat hall.

"If a 1,200-seat hall is built and the orchestra finds it can't perform the big works (by Mahler and Strauss) as a result of the size...I would say it's jeopardizing its audiences."

Alan D. Valentine, executive director of the Nashville Symphony, said a small hall could backfire fiscally if an orchestra's audience grew enough to require multiple performances.

"If they build a hall that causes the orchestra to flourish...they're going to have to do more multiple performances, and they'll still not have the dates to rent to those smaller groups," Valentine said.

He also said that larger halls can be designed to adapt to smaller audiences.

Most big orchestras play in halls that range from 1,750 to 2,400 seats. Many experts consider 2,000 seats an optimum balance of acoustics and revenue-generating seating. Recently built orchestra halls, for example, try to seat about 2,000.

Of 43 American orchestras with budgets of $3.6 million or more, the Kansas City Symphony already plays in the space with the smallest seating capacity: the 1,650-seat Lyric Theatre.

At first the plans for the new performing arts center recommended a symphony hall that seated 1,800. But in June, the board said it was considering a convertible, multipurpose hall for opera, ballet and orchestra music. It also would consider a separate, 500-seat theater.

Then, on Sept. 15, concerned over scheduling problems created by a single large hall, the center's leaders restored the separate orchestra hall -- but with only 1,200 seats.

Audience patterns in other cities indicate that attendance can double or triple when a sleek new center is built, Nashville's Valentine said. Currently the Kansas City Symphony draws about 800 people on an average night at the Lyric Theatre, 1,000 on a Sunday at Yardley Hall. It could outgrow a 1,200-seat hall, though performing arts center planners say the orchestra could add performances.

"I would be really nervous about 1,200 seats," Valentine said. "I'd be more nervous about 2,500 seats...nervous that it wouldn't sound good."

Valentine's orchestra, which has roughly the same budget as the Kansas City Symphony, will break ground in December on a $120 million, 1,900-seat orchestra hall.

"I think it (the Kansas City plan) can severely hamper the orchestra's attempts to grow into a world-class orchestra," he said.

Interestingly, pressure to increase the number of seats could come from the center's latest hire. Monday it chose a new acoustician, Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics. Toyota said that as the interior designs develop, he might urge a higher seat count.

"My suggestion is currently not to limit them to 1,200, but think of the chorus seats as an additional 200 or 300," said the Los Angeles-based acoustician, whose designs for the new Walt Disney Symphony Hall will be heard Oct. 23. "And my understanding is that the 1,400 or 1,500 will be quite reasonable."

Richard Pilbrow of Theatre Projects Consultants, the firm determining audience amenities for the Kansas City center, said the issues of seat count and hall size are still in flux. The PAC board has made clear, however, it intends to keep the hall smaller than first planned.

"The 1,200-seat issue I don't think is completely closed," Pilbrow said. "It could perhaps be a little bigger than that. But it won't be much bigger."

While the debate quietly goes on, most of those close to the project are optimistic.

Frank Byrne, symphony executive director, is elated the orchestra will get its own space.

"We think we can make it work," Byrne said. "We have played very successfully in a venue around that size in (the 1,250-seat) Yardley Hall, and our sales there are quite good."

"I think (the 1,200-seat plan) is sized suitably for our market," said Bob Kipp, a performing arts center board member, Kansas City Symphony vice president and Hallmark Cards Inc. executive.

Architect Moshe Safdie, whose Boston-based firm is designing the center, said he had already begun designs for the smaller hall.

"A 1,200-seat concert hall could be acoustically one of the best in the world," he said. "It's a combination of intimacy and extraordinary sound."

Acoustics aside, the primary argument for reducing the seat count is money. The smaller hall will be easier to rent to other groups on nights the Symphony is not using it, said Ken Dworak, performing arts center project manager.

The Kansas City Symphony has the largest budget ($8.9 million) and serves more audience members than any other performing arts organization in town. Some wonder why the economics should figure more prominently than the artistic concerns.

"I don't know that dollars should decide the size of the hall," said Charles Rogers, director of the Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College. "The really nice halls that I think about are in the 2,000-seat range."

But with jitters in the classical-music industry causing orchestras across the country to scale back and even go out of business, some wonder whether Kansas City can afford to build an acoustically ideal space.

"My opinion is that it's all economics, that there is simply not enough money to build what they want to build," said Kansas City Chorale Executive Director Don Loncasty, whose group might be in a position to rent the smaller hall. "Selfishly, I kind of like the smaller hall."

Some musicians say the diminished orchestra hall reflects local attitudes toward the Symphony.

"I think there's a lack of confidence in our ability to grow our audiences," said Symphony cellist Alex East, adding that he might favor a smaller hall if the acoustics were sound. "There's skepticism. There's a lot of fear, with orchestras going under everywhere. They're trying to make a conservative choice, which is typical of Kansas City."

But Byrne said the decision was "a reflection of new economics. There's a cost affiliated with (running the center) that has to be factored in.

"I understand there are some halls that are under construction or under design that are in that range," he said, citing the Virginia Performing Arts Center in Richmond.

David Fisk, the Richmond symphony's executive director, said building a 1,000- to 1,200-seat hall is the wave of the future.

"People have been erring on the side of building too big," he said. "We were keen on getting the audience closer to the orchestra, breaking down barriers."

And, he said, "It's much better to have a full house and have people clamoring for tickets."

Musicians, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of making a space that serves the purpose for which it is being built.

"If the orchestra wants to play the repertoire through Tchaikovsky and not past it, that would be fine," said Oklahoma City conductor Levine.

"But if it really wants to get into works that are overtly loud, then it's going to have a problem."

To reach Paul Horsley, classical music critic, call (816) 234-4764 or send e-mail to [email protected]

It will be designed by Moshie Safdie & Associates.

Here are two renderings of the structure the second which shows the ballroom which will start construction this fall.



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I guess it's because we are reviving our downtown and Crown Center is just normal development... But I don't see any end till 2010. Then I will begin my career in KC (as will many other KC Development lovers)

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A rendering off of KCGridlock's website, you can see the PAC south of Bartle hall


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They will start construction once the ballet school has been completed (to the right of the PAC in the photo, will be on that green lot).

Which will be by next fall (2005)

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