Andrea Loughry

Andrea Loughry

Supporters of the Rutherford County arts, education and tourism scene are proposing to build what they say will be the region’s largest performance hall.

Andrea Loughry, Mark Wilson, Dr. Terry Goodin and Jane McNulty are among a group of arts backers who envision building a center in Rutherford County to stage world-class plays, musical events, conventions that would support school events, professional venues and trade shows.

Wilson sat down with the Murfreesboro Post to discuss the plan.

Arts coalition backs plan

Although Wilson and McNulty are key players in the Murfreesboro Symphony Orchestra, he said the plan will fall under the auspices of a Rutherford County arts council that Loughry is heading because so many organizations will benefit. Loughry is also co-chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission.

For now, the performing arts center’s backers are meeting with community leaders in the arts and government bodies, as well as leading companies, to build a coalition.

The response has been positive, Wilson said, and the potential impact on the economy and the performing arts scene is tremendous.

A preliminary site plan calls for a multi-purpose building sitting on up to 35 acres, Wilson said. Development costs will not be known until the land is purchased and the final site plan is created.

The building would pay for itself over time, although startup funds could include government funds, corporate sponsors and grants. There could be up to five openings for naming rights.

There are no available local buildings of this size and type in Rutherford County, Wilson said. One of the greatest benefits of such a building would be to allow high school musicals and other events to be staged. Often, such performances must be held multiple times to allow all the students’ families to attend, he said.

“The time is right and this is something our community needs,” he said.

Wilson estimated it would be larger than most performance halls in Middle Tennessee. There would be two auditoriums, a large “classical” theater style and a smaller flexible performance space. The small auditorium, with a movable stage, would be structured to allow trade shows and similar venues. The large auditorium would be a “classic” theatrical style with sloping floors.

Among its many functions, the building would house the symphony, visual and performing arts, commercial acts, and possibly a museum of American music, a natural given the draw of Uncle Dave Macon Days.

Economic engine

Ties to such events would be one of the other benefits of such a facility, Wilson said. The building could draw traveling Broadway shows and regional performances, adding to Rutherford County’s tourism industry.

Research supports the potential, he said.

Rutherford County is at the heart of a three-county area that has ranked fourth-highest in the nation for having a vibrant arts community that drives the economy, the Murfreesboro Post reported in August. The story was based on Southern Methodist University’s National Center for Arts Research, which announced the news in its fourth annual Arts Vibrancy Index.

The index focuses on communities with populations of more than one million. The No. 4 ranking encompasses Rutherford and Davidson counties and the city of Franklin in Williamson County. The arts-culture industry contributes to Rutherford County’s economy, generating $31.2 million every year, according to the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study conducted by Americans for the Arts.

The SMU study, meanwhile, notes that while this part of Middle Tennessee has long been known for music, it has an emerging “world-class” visual arts and fashion scene.

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