Instead of the sounds of a band or orchestra, most of what you’ll hear over at The Arts Council is the sound of construction.
A new outdoor stage and pavilion is being built and will open this summer, ready to host performances, fundraisers and weddings. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at The Arts Council.
“We have been planning it for so long,” said Gladys Wyant, executive director at The Arts Council. “We are working feverishly on it right now.”
It’s a venue Wyant said is “one-of-a-kind” in Gainesville. She’s not aware of any other covered, outdoor venues in Gainesville, especially at this size.
The 6,300-square-foot stage and pavilion is a more than $1 million addition to the council’s Smithgall Arts Center property at the corner of West Academy Street and Spring Street Southwest off the Gainesville square. Wyant said the project was totally funded by private donations.
And it’s a project that’s been a long time coming.
“Since we moved into and renovated the old railroad depot, we talked about an amphitheater,” Wyant said. “We have looked at this from so many different angles and placed the facility on almost every single piece of the property to get the best.”
They had to have it in a spot where the sun wouldn’t shine in the performer’s eyes, but a spot where it wasn’t shining in the audience’s eyes either. They had to make sure it fit in with the council’s building already there on the property, too, but didn’t overtake it.
“The other thing to consider was to plan it in keeping with the historical aspects of the old railroad depot,” Wyant said. “And it really does that. It looks like it belongs … This is an addition, so it keeps that historical integrity, and this addition just enhances that.”
After making sure they had the funds to make it all happen, things were able to get underway a couple weeks ago. The stage and pavilion are set to be completed this summer.
Once complete, the pavilion will be able to seat 300 for dinners and events. The rest of the grounds can be used for additional seating for more than 2,000 during concerts and other events.
The new stage and pavilion won’t connect to the existing building, but will only be about 12 feet away from it. Wyant hopes to install “theatrical lighting that can add some ambiance in it.”
There will be one permanent wall on the West Academy Street side while the others will remain open. During colder weather, they’ll be able to enclose the other walls. There will also be heat and air conditioning.
“It can accomodate so much more than the arts, and we are very community minded,” Wyant said. “We love this community and our community is growing in so many directions. We want to continue to serve our senior citizens, which is a growing population in this area, but we also want to engage our younger audiences. So this venue will lend itself to more opportunities to do that with all ages and all types of events.”
Having its own performance venue like this will give The Arts Council an opportunity to offer more shows and performances as well as control when they come.
Until now, they’ve had to deal with scheduling at other venues around town, which sometimes doesn’t work with a performer’s schedule.
“This will give us more control over who, what and when we can have our programs and serve the community better,” Wyant said. “And of course, in addition to our programs, it will be a rental facility for other arts and dance, music and festivals, corporate retreats, wedding receptions and ceremonies, casual and formal dinners.”
Wyant said they’ve already rented out the pavilion along with the existing building for a wedding reception this year.
With that coming even as the project is just getting started, Wyant knows they made the right call in bringing something like this to Gainesville and The Arts Council.
“Our plans continually morphed into this pavilion,” Wyant said. “We see the need for the community in addition to the arts programs.”