Stevens Center Master Plan

Master Planning
Stevens Center Master Plan

The Stevens Center Renovation

Located at 405 West Fourth Street in Winston-Salem, the Stevens Center of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the school’s primary performance venue. It’s also home to resident companies such as the Winston-Salem Symphony, Piedmont Opera and the National Black Theatre Festival.

Formerly the Carolina Theatre, a 1929 film and vaudeville house anchoring an 11-story hotel, the Stevens Center was donated to UNCSA in 1980 by Piedmont Publishing, former owner of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel. Throughout its life, the Stevens Center has played a major role in economic development downtown and more recently, it has become the centerpiece of the growing arts district.

Nearly 35 years since its makeover as a teaching facility for UNCSA and a premier performance space, the Stevens Center is long overdue for major renovations. Its façade is dated and in disrepair. Lacking lobby and concession space, comfortable seats (with sufficient leg room), and adequate restrooms, the patron experience is subpar. Accessibility needs must be addressed. The stage should be enlarged and the orchestra pit enhanced. The theater also requires an expansion of backstage areas, dressing rooms and rehearsal space, with additional loading docks.

“The Stevens Center serves as our largest classroom and creative incubator. Like any university laboratory, it must be kept up-to-date with state-of-the-art equipment,” continues Bierman. “Bringing the facility up to modern standards is vital not only to our students, but also to the local economy. A vibrant Stevens Center will stimulate further development downtown and attract new businesses to call Winston-Salem home.”

“Ultimately, the Stevens Center should be the heart of a ‘creative corridor’ that runs through downtown to our campus,” Bierman added. “That’s the vision we share with partners like the Arts Council and the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership.

When UNCSA’s 2015-2020 strategic plan identified “Enhancing the Living and Learning Environment” and “Catalyzing Arts-based Community and Economic Development” as initiatives that would propel UNCSA to becoming a leading cultural institution in the South, the revitalization of the Stevens Center came to the fore.

In the spring of 2017, the school engaged Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) and DLR Group to prepare a concept master plan for the Stevens Center. From March to June of 2017, the school’s Executive Design Committee and the design team met with groups of faculty, staff, students and members of the Winston-Salem community to discuss the Stevens Center. Feedback from these meetings formed the basis for the recommendations in the master plan.

Concept Master Plan

A conceptual rendering of the exterior of a renovated Stevens Center. Click through to see a full gallery of renderings for the Stevens Center Master Plan.The Stevens Center opened in 1929 as the Carolina Theatre, a 2,500 seat film and vaudeville venue anchoring an 11 story hotel. When built, the Carolina Theatre was the  largest theatre in North Carolina (Winston-Salem Journal), showing movies and live performances with significant celebrity appearances.The Carolina Theatre was donated to the UNCSA in 1980 by Piedmont Publishing, and in 1983 an extensive renovation adapted the stage and seating to suit the requirements of live performance. The Stevens Center soon became an important teaching facility and performance venue for the UNCSA and the Winston‐Salem region.Today the 1,366 seat Stevens Center is again in need of extensive renovation to allow it to function as a fully‐utilized, nationally‐competitive educational facility and performance venue. Its lobbies, concessions, and patron amenities are insufficient, and it lacks suitable stairs, elevators, accessible routes and wheelchair spaces within the audience chamber. Its back of house, stage and technical equipment are also insufficient for the facility’s needs.UNCSA’s 2015‐2020 Strategic Plan outlines the primary objectives for a new master plan of the Stevens Center. Specific ambitions for the Stevens Center renovation were identified in support of these objectives, forming the basis for the Stevens Center master plan. Existing Stevens Center designThe new Stevens Center will fundamentally transform the patron experience. The building’s lobby, concessions and amenities will occupy three levels, increase lobby space from 2 square feet per seat to 8 square feet per seat. A new “necklace balcony” will be added at the third level, the location of the original Carolina Theatre’s balcony, providing premium seating and exceptional sight lines one level above the parterre seating. The second balcony will be re‐raked and provided with a new cross aisle and additional side vomitory access from the necklace balcony. The master plan provides options for the upper floors of the Stevens Center building as either office or residential space. The top floor is to be renovated and remain an event space.Existing first floor designThe street‐to‐seat experience will be improved for all patrons with two new stairs and a dedicated patron elevator. Side vomitories and a cross aisle will be added to the theatre’s orchestra level allowing orchestra seat patrons to reach their seats without climbing stairs. Back‐of‐house and stage improvements include a 660 square feet stage expansion to the north and a new and enlarged loading area to the west, pending the acquisition of adjacent properties. Regardless of these acquisitions, the master plan includes updated stage equipment and controls, a redesign of the lower level and upgrades to performance technology, film projection, theatre rigging, and sound systems.Existing second floor designConcessions and amenities will be added at each lobby level and the toilet fixture count serving the lobby space will be increased from the current 2 fixtures per 100 patrons to 4 fixtures per 100 patrons. All levels of the theatre and all amenities and concessions will have accessible routes and wheelchair spaces will be distributed within the orchestra, parterre, necklace and balcony levels. Seat widths will average 20 inches while row‐to‐row dimensions will be at least 40 inches. Total seat count will decrease from 1,366 to 1,024 in exchange for a vastly improved patron experience.  The current Stevens Center façade, last updated in 1983, features a translucent curtain wall at its center. However, the dated façade is slated to receive much needed restoration updates.The Stevens Center master plan proposes a historic preservation of the building’s 1929 façade and recreation of missing elements from the exterior of the Carolina Theatre including two marquees, the street level façade, and the corner blade sign. The 1983 curtain wall will be removed and this portion of the façade will be restored to its original condition using brick salvaged from the rear of the tower or stage house.Photo of the Stevens Center from the Virginia Tech archives.The renovation of the Stevens Center will add to the UNCSA experience the historic richness of a theatre central to the identity of the Winston‐Salem community since 1929, and provide opportunities for interaction between UNCSA, local and regional performing arts organizations, and audiences.Existing Stevens Center seatingThe transformation of the Stevens Center seating configuration will improve the patron experience with comfortable seating and increased leg room, four different seating level options all with best-in-class views and acoustics and greater accessibility for all patrons.Existing Stevens Center stage  The extensive interior renovations will create a state-of-the-art performance venue for UNCSA  and the Winston-Salem region with world-class lighting, acoustics and exceptional sightlines.Above all, the renovated Stevens Center will serve UNCSA as a nationally‐prominent educational facility for a rising generation of performing artists, designers, and technicians.

The preliminary plan lays the groundwork for turning the deteriorating and outdated facility into a world-class performing arts venue, although the actual renovation is still years away. RAMSA estimates a project cost of $35.2 million, and the funds must be raised first. UNCSA will seek to identify funding from a combination of state, city and county sources, in addition to individual donors and foundations. “We can’t count on state funding alone to cover the costs. We’ll only get this done as a public-private partnership,” Chancellor Bierman said.

The school is developing plans to expand and diversify the center’s programming, to attract more people downtown and to Forsyth County.

“There would be a profound ripple effect through increased spending on restaurants, hotels, and parking,” Bierman said. “Our ‘Nutcracker’ performances alone attract more than 15,000 audience members a year, which drives hospitality revenue downtown.”

Wiley Hausam, UNCSA’s new Managing Director of Performance Facilities, is in the process of launching a market study by a leading national firm to learn what’s changed in the market in recent years and what program mix is most attractive to potential ticket buyers. “We very much want to hear from key stakeholders in the community about what they are interested in,” Hausam said.

Currently, the School of the Arts is spending $300,000 of state repair and renovation funds to install netting around the facility’s exterior to ensure the crumbling terra cotta façade does not fall on a patron or pedestrian. Eventually, the terra cotta will be painstakingly refurbished. “We want to restore the historic character and charm of the building,” Bierman noted, “and RAMSA’s plan does that with sensitivity and restraint.”

UNCSA is developing a detailed project timeline with an eye toward minimizing the time the Stevens Center will be closed, which could be up to 18 months. The school has already reached out to other venues and presenting organizations that could accommodate performances and productions during the down time.

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Last updated January 31, 2018