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Flint: $30 Million Facelift for Cultural Center

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This is great news for Flint. There seems to be more and more projects in the city. Maybe things are finally starting to turn around...especially in the downtown area :).

Cultural Center changes are afoot

Ed board OKs $30-million face-lift, ponders sales deal


Thursday, October 02, 2003

By Matt Bach


Flint - The DeWaters Arts Center and the Dort Music Center - two cornerstones of the Flint Cultural Center - soon may get new owners and $30 million in improvements.

The renovations to the buildings housing the Flint Institute of Arts and the Flint Institute of Music will be paid for with donations and fund-raising efforts, said Flint Board of Education President Christopher Martin. The school board approved the renovation plan, which will cost the district nothing.

Another part of the plan is the sale of the DeWaters and Dort centers, Whiting Auditorium, Bower Theater and the Longway Planetarium to the Flint Cultural Center Corp. for $1 per building, Martin said. Negotiations are continuing.

The Flint Public Library would be sold to the Flint District Library Board for $1.

The school district owns the buildings, but expenses and management for all the facilities except the library are handled by the Cultural Center Corp., said school attorney Kendall B. Williams. Library expenses are handled by its board.

"They need to own that property outright," Martin said. "The board has decided our No. 1 priority is to educate students, not to be lease holders to other properties. We want to stay focused on academics.

"We could sell these for more than $1, but why? People donated money to build these buildings. To me, they belong to the community. It wouldn't be right for the school district to make a profit on that."

Because the district holds the deeds to the facilities, all building improvements must be approved by the school board, Martin said.

Williams said the deal to sell the buildings should be completed in 60 to 90 days.

Once the sales are complete, the only cultural center buildings the district will own will be the Sarvis Center, 1231 E. Kearsley St.; the main school administration building, 923 E. Kearsley St.; Central High School; and Whittier Middle School.

Officials of the Flint Institute of Arts on Wednesday presented the school board a plan to make $19 million in improvements to the DeWaters center, 1120 E. Kearsley St. The board unanimously approved the plans, which will be done over two phases.

The first phase, costing $12.3 million, will start in January or February and take 12 to 18 months.

"We found that this 1958 building does not accommodate all the demands of the public," FIA Director John Henry told the board.

The renovations would create a "state of the art" museum with a modern look inside and out. The building's exterior will get a new face of brightly colored glazed brick and glass panels. It also will have new entrances in the front and back and a new lobby, store, cafe, multipurpose space and reconfigured auditorium.

The school board last month approved $8.2 million in work at the Dort center, which will include renovating the existing 40,000-square-foot facility and adding 26,000 square feet of classroom space that can accommodate 1,000 more students.

The music institute was formed in the early 1970s, and enrollment has increased from a few hundred to 3,000, with 45 percent of the students living in Flint. The FIM turns away 200 or more students a year due to lack of space.

The expansion will allow for additional preschool, dance and music instruction. To date, the FIM has raised $7 million in cash and pledges for the project, which will take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Martin said the two expansion projects are good news for the city.

"Anytime we build in Flint is a plus. You'll attract more people to Flint," Martin said. "I'm excited about it because we have so many students down there."


Matt Bach covers education and the Flint School District. He can be reached at (810) 766-6330 or [email protected]

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