By Scott Robertson
East Tennessee State University is wasting no time attempting to capitalize on the Johnson City Commission’s 3-1 vote to provide $8 million to expand the Fine and Performing Arts Center (FPAC) project.
Because the city voted Thursday night to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the university to provide the additional funds, the center can now be built to include a 1,200+ seat main hall. Without those funds the hall would have topped out under 600 seats.
ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland said he and Dr. Paul Stanton, the former ETSU president who has headed up fundraising for the project, have talked with several potential donors who had been keeping their money on the sidelines. “Everybody has asked, ‘Well, when will you know about the city?’” Noland said. “They have said, ‘Come talk to me after you know whether the city is involved.’
“Now we look to bring closure to some major asks that are on the table,” Noland said after the meeting Thursday. “Tonight moves us past the chicken-or-egg situation we have been in for the majority of 2016. We have about $2.4 million to raise on the university side of the equation and I feel very confident in our ability to move on that with due speed.”
In addition to rounding out the fundraising campaign, the university must now go before the state building commission to get approval for the FPAC expansion at the commission’s September meeting.
“We have been approved by the state to build a $40 million facility,” Noland said Thursday night. “We’ll now go before the state to seek a change in the scope to add this additional investment to the facility, which then authorizes the architect to finalize the drawings for the larger hall, to take those drawings to design schematics which then go to production documents and we’re off and running.”
The university will not need to have the remaining $2.4 million in hand to get state approval, but it will need to demonstrate to the state it has a revenue source in place to cover pledges prior to the initiation of construction. So, because some pledges are due to be paid to the university over time, a bridge loan to fund up-front costs will be part of the presentation to the building commission.
Noland said he has no reason to believe the building commission will put up any new roadblocks. “We anticipate a favorable review. We believe we’ll be in position by the close of the fall for all the design schematics to be done and we will be off and moving with construction of the building.”
Originally the university had planned to open the FPAC in 2018. However, the process has been on hold for the last five to six months while the city and the university negotiated details of the memorandum of understanding approved Thursday. Noland said the chance to build a 1,200+ seat facility was worth the delay. “You only have one opportunity to do this.”