Black Box Theatre

Update:

A brief analysis and summary of an architect’s findings about the feasibility of  a black box theater at the Baca Center was reported to the Baca Center Focus Group on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, at City Hall. We appreciate the Focus Group’ willingness and commitment to help the arts prosper. For more information on the findings about the Baca Center Black Box Theatre project, visit this Quarry blog post.

The City is continuing to explore possibilities for a black box theater in Round Rock.

Previous:

The City is studying the possibility of creating a Black Box Theatre in the Grand Room of the Baca Center. The idea is to use the space on evenings and weekends, when there is availability of the Grand Room, for performing arts. The curtains, chairs and stage would be stored so activities that occur in the Grand Room now could continue in the future.

There was an informational meeting about the project held at the Baca Center on Aug. 9, and many seniors spoke at the City Council meeting on Aug. 11. Below is an overview of the input received, and responses to some of the questions we heard.

Question and Answers

What we heard most clearly is the Baca Center is a lifeline for many of its members, and any potential changes to how the facility is used are extremely concerning. We understand, and are slowing down the planning process to make sure we address members’ concerns clearly and consistently.

Quick recap: The City has hired an architect to conduct a Feasibility Study that is looking at three options for a Black Box Theatre at the Baca Center:

  • Option 1:  Can a Black Box Theatre be placed in the Grand Room at the Baca Center?  Questions/Concerns: Space and Capacity; Height and Load Restrictions; Sound Restrictions; Codes; Functionality
  • Option 2:  Option 1, plus adding dressing rooms, makeup counters, a green room, technical booth areas, etc.
  • Option 3:  Building a Black Box Theatre at the loading dock area of the Baca Center

This is not a done deal. The final decision will be made by the City Council whether it wants to pursue one of these options or look elsewhere for a temporary home for performing arts.

By our count, at least 190 people attended the informational meeting on Tuesday, and 15 spoke at the City Council meeting. Here’s a quick overview of the questions and comments about the project. It’s not meant to be a detailed account, but we want to reflect the main points raised at the meetings.

The Baca Center is already heavily utilized. How can a Black Box Theater possibly not take the space away from activities seniors currently enjoy in the Grand Room?

As Arts and Culture Director Scot Wilkinson noted in his presentation, we looked at two years of Grand Room booking data provided to us from the Parks and Recreation Department. For evening use, the data shows that the Grand Room is booked 135 nights a year, and free 230 nights a year. That unused time is one reason why the City began to seriously explore the possibility of housing a Black Box Theater in that space.

The Black Box would be designed so the stage, seating, risers, curtains, etc., can be stored after each performance so the Grand Room can be used as it is today for senior activities. And we understand storage is already an issue at the Baca Center. That’s one of the issues the architect hired by the City will be looking at.

The Black Box project is already displacing potential uses of the room. How can you say it won’t conflict with existing activities?

We talked with the Parks and Recreation Department earlier this year about blacking out dates in the fall when we anticipated there would be construction in the Grand Room. Now that the project timeline has shifted, we anticipate those dates opening back up soon.

What other facilities has the City looked at for a Black Box?

  • Former site of Builder’s Gypsum Site near City Hall
  • Multiple shopping centers (LaFrontera, Mays Crossing, etc.)
  • The former Saint William Parish Hall on McNeil Road
  • The old armory building on IH that is now home to AirCo Mechanical
  • The Heritage House
  • Property off Mays Street on the other side of the Baylor bridge
  • CD Fulkes Middle School
  • The property next to Veterans Park on the creek
  • The former Baker Aicklen building in southwest downtown
  • The Library
  • Warehouse spaces off of Red Bud Lane
  • Warehouse spaces near IKEA
  • Property between IKEA and the Police Station
  • Buildings on Old Settler Boulevard and Greenhill Drive
  • Texas State University Round Rock Campus

What about parking? The parking lot at the Baca Center is already too crowded.

The idea is to convert the Grand Room to the Black Box configuration when the Center isn’t busy. And while we understand many seniors need to utilize the spaces in the Baca Center garage for ease of accessibility, many arts patrons won’t have the same concern and can park in the garage across the street from the McConico Building or on the surface parking lot next to the amphitheater.

Why was the new office building going up next door allowed to use Baca Center parking spaces to meet code for parking requirements?

You can read an engineer’s analysis conducted for the project that shows existing parking structures – under the Baca Center and the Transit Center across from the McConico Building – as well as a surface lot to be constructed off San Saba, would provide sufficient parking for the building.

It was an incentive offered by previous City management to get a speculative office project built in the downtown area. The overall goal of downtown redevelopment is to have centralized, public parking facilities and on-street parking. Not private, large surface parking lots.

What about parking capacity when seniors are using the facility and when arts groups are using the facility at the same time?

The idea is to use the facility for arts performances at “off peak” times, i.e., when the facility is not heavily used by seniors or other groups on weekdays during the day. The plan is to work with Baca Center staff to schedule activities to avoid that kind of parking capacity issue.

Is there enough rest room capacity to serve a 150-attendee performance?

Yes. The Baca Center rest rooms meet building code standards for that many attendees. There are often more people than that at the Center during the day.

Why have Baca members been kept in the dark about this project?

It was certainly not our intention to do so, though we understand the frustration expressed at the meetings. The Black Box concept was discussed at a City Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. The Black Box concept was featured in articles in the Round Rock Leader on Sept. 18, 2015 and Nov. 24, 2015, and Community Impact on Feb. 3, 2016 and May 6, 2016. As noted at the meeting, the City published a blog post about the project on Jan. 15, 2016.

We certainly should have met with Baca Center members earlier. However, we would not have had much detailed information to share – just as we didn’t at the Aug. 9 meeting – because some of the answers can only come after the architect does some design work.

Won’t arts groups, once using the Black Box, want to take over the entire center and kick the seniors out?

The City’s intent is for the Black Box to serve as a temporary home until a permanent, stand-alone facility can be built for the performing arts. Just like the old bank building on Main Street served as a temporary home for senior activities – albeit for some years – until a permanent home could be funded and built.

What about this feasibility study?

During the planning process for the 2013 General Obligation bond election, the citizen panel studying community needs believed there was a need for an arts facility in Round Rock. But they could not determine what type and size of facility should be built. So the City hired Corgan, a Dallas-based architecture firm, to do a needs assessment. The assessment, presented to the City Council on July 23, 2015, recommended a 70,800-square-foot, multi-purpose facility would meet the community’s arts needs. Cost is estimated at up to $50 million, so obviously would require an election for City funds to be used for the project.

We did ask a company that builds black boxes to have a look at the Grand Room to see if they believed a theater could be constructed there. They visited the facility in September 2015 and indicated such a project was feasible.

Why has an Austin group been chosen to manage the Black Box?

That has not happened. The City is currently drafting a request for proposals (RFP) to send to arts groups to manage Black Box Theater operations. Once the proposals are sent out, City staff will grade the responses and recommend a group to the City Council for approval. Or, we may choose a different approach to manage the Theater.

Why does Penfold Theatre Company list 301 W. Bagdad Ave. as its address on its website?

It does not. If you do a Google search for Penfold, the Google page shows the address at 301 W. Bagdad Ave. We assume that’s because Penfold’s most recent performance was at the amphitheater. The address listed on Penfold’s website is PO Box 81044, Austin, TX.

Baca members have raised funds for senior activities. Will those dollars go toward the Black Box operations?

No. The plan is for revenues generated by ticket and food and beverage sales at the theater to offset operational costs. Any shortfalls would be covered by the Arts and Culture budget, which is funded by Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues.

For comments or questions, please call 512-671-2705 or send an email to blackbox@roundrocktexas.gov.