Performance center space to double with completion of Oxford facility
by Laura Camper
Dec 25, 2012 | 4412 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Construction at the new Performing Arts Center in downtown Oxford in October. The center is expected to be complete by March. (File photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Construction at the new Performing Arts Center in downtown Oxford in October. The center is expected to be complete by March. (File photo: Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Soon the Anniston Performing Arts Center will not be the only facility hosting entertainment events in Calhoun County.

A new performance center under construction in Oxford is scheduled to be finished by the end of March, said Fred Denney, project manager for the city of Oxford.

The $10.4 million center, a renovation and addition to Oxford's old City Hall, will have a 1,210-seat theater, along with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, Denney said. The city has not only committed the money to the project, it has also committed to hiring a center director to market the center and recruit entertainment. The center would be looking to book both single acts as well as acting as host for groups such as the Oxford Arts Council and others, Denney said.

“That’s a big investment,” said Fred Denney. “We need to have some return.”

That return should include rental fees, ticket sales as well as entertainment for the community, he said.

The owner of the county’s other performing arts center, Anniston’s school board, takes a different approach. Anniston City Schools Superintendent Joan Frazier said, she doesn’t believe it is the school system’s responsibility to try to attract community events to the center at the high school. The system’s job is to educate the children who attend school there, she said.

The Anniston Performing Arts Center was an addition to Anniston High School, built in 1970.

At the time, the Anniston City Board of Education wanted to create a facility that would serve not only the high school, but the community, said Patricia Smith, former chairwoman of the Knox Concert Series Board of Directors, which has long used the facility to host touring performances.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival was based in Anniston then, and the center was designed for Shakespeare in the round, Smith said. It was nothing like the school auditoriums being built then or now, she said.

“It’s a lovely jewel of a venue,” Smith said.

And that’s why Knox has been using it since it opened, she said.

Knox has helped the school system to make improvements to the center over the years, said Rick Westbrook, current chairman of the Knox Concert Series board of directors.

The Knox series is one of the most consistent renters of the Anniston High School center. Both Smith and Westbrook declined to comment on the Oxford center, saying they didn’t know much about it yet.

Anniston’s center seats 1,200 people. It’s rented on average probably once a month, adding about $12,000 to $15,000 to the system’s budget, said Frazier. The money gets pumped back into the center and the high school for utilities and maintenance, Frazier said.

The center’s rentals also provide intangible benefits to the school system and the community, she said.

Events at the center bring many people to the high school campus who otherwise wouldn’t visit, and that has been important in building partnerships between the school and the community, Frazier said.

“It just fosters that sense that this is the high school, the only public high school in Anniston,” Frazier said. “It fosters a sense of community spirit.”

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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