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Local leaders discuss $100-million plans for Thomas Wolfe Auditorium renovations

Nearly 400 people gathered at Harrah’s Cherokee Center - Asheville for ArtsAVL’s Town Hall to discuss the future of the performing arts space.

Local leaders discussed future plans for Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on stage at the arena.

Local leaders discuss future plans for the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

Photo by AVLtoday

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Big plans could be in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium’s future after ArtsAVL’s Town Hall discussion on Monday afternoon. The panel brought together leaders from the City of Asheville, the Tourism Development Authority, the Asheville Symphony, and the Theatre Consultants Collaborative to talk through plans for renovations of the performing arts space.

A bit of backstory

The auditorium hasn’t undergone major renovations since the 1970s — although talks of upgrades aren’t new. In 2020, a $100 million redesign was proposed before the pandemic brought the project to a halt. But this May the building’s structural integrity took a quick turn for the worse when the main HVAC unit failed, followed by failures of the remaining units in July — which ultimately caused the space to close.

Future plans

The City is tasked with deciding to remediate the space with minor repairs or with a full-fledged redesign. Chris Corl, Director of Community and Regional Entertainment Facilities for the City of Asheville, expressed that completing the minor repairs, which would cost $1.2 million, wouldn’t address the underlying issues within the facility.

Chris presented five options for major renovations to the auditorium, with building costs projected for 2028 when renovations are expected to begin:

  1. Large-scale renovation to host Broadway shows — est. $183-198 million
  2. Major acoustic-driven renovation — est. $130-150 million
  3. Improved raked floor arrangement for better sightlines — est. $105-125 million
  4. Flat floor arrangement for diverse programming — est. $90-110 million
  5. Basic code + infrastructure updates — est. $42-52 million

These hefty price tags beg the question, “Where will funding come from?” At the panel, Mayor Manheimer floated the idea of leaning on the Tourism Development Authority as a funding partner as well as bringing in funding from bond referendums and naming rights.

What’s next?

Repairs to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium are currently underway in hopes of reopening the space at limited capacity in October or November. Want to share your questions and comments about topics discussed at the Town Hall? Submit them through ArtsAVL’s online form.

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