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Delays Push Carolina Theatre Project To 2022, Hotel Coming Later

The Carolina Theatre on North Tryon Street was built in 1927 but fell into disrepair and closed in the 1970s. The Foundation for the Carolinas is restoring it now.
Foundation for the Carolinas
The Carolina Theatre on North Tryon Street was built in 1927 but fell into disrepair and closed in the 1970s. The Foundation for the Carolinas is restoring it now.

Years of delays due to unexpected environmental problems and the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed back reopening of the historic Carolina Theatre in uptown Charlotte. But officials now say it's on track for the fall of 2022.

When restoration began on the theater on North Tryon Street in 2017, it was supposed to take two years and include a 250-room hotel above it.

But first, toxic dry-cleaning fluid was found in the groundwater. Removing it took nine months and cost just under a million dollars, said Michael Marsicano, president and CEO of the Foundation for the Carolinas, which owns the site.

More recently, asbestos was found during the roof replacement. Fixing that problem will add another million dollars to the original $50 million cost, he said.

Then the planned InterContinental hotel was put on hold in November after the developers lost their financing amid the global pandemic crash in hotel bookings. It could be delayed by two or three years — but won't affect the theater, Marsicano said.

"The bottom line here is that it will be completed in the summer of 2022, I guarantee it, and it will open in the fall of 2022 to a weeklong celebration," Marsicano said during a virtual talk to the World Affairs Council of Charlotte on Thursday.

The old theater at North Tryon and Sixth streets opened in 1927, hosting vaudeville shows, films and entertainers such as Elvis Presley, but fell into disrepair and shut down in the 1970s.

Michael Marsicano came to Charlotte in 1989 to run the Arts & Science Council. He has been CEO at the Foundation for the Carolinas since 1999. He's a New York native with bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees from Duke University.
Foundation for the Carolinas
Michael Marsicano

Marsicano also talked Thursday about the importance of philanthropy during the coronavirus pandemic. He detailed the Foundation for the Carolinas' fundraising and grantmaking over the past year to help people and organizations hit hard by the economic crisis that came with the virus.

"Our community's generosity cannot and will not be confined to last calendar year, of course," he said. "There's more to be done. Until the pandemic ends, we won't know the extent of COVID-19's damage."

The pandemic has been good for charitable giving, though, Marsicano said. The Foundation for the Carolinas manages charitable funds for hundreds of people and institutions, and Marsicano said they added more than $500 million in new donations last year. That swelled the foundation's assets under management to $3.1 billion, from $2.6 billion a year earlier — making it one of the nation's largest community foundations.

Meanwhile, it's not just recovery from the pandemic on donors' minds, Marsicano said. Last year's police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police violence against Black people is also a challenge for people with money to give.

"Unlike the pandemic, which hopefully is approaching its end now with vaccines being distributed, systemic racism does not have a quick fix, or an easily agreed upon strategy," Marsicano said.

"For generations, our community has wrestled with the lingering effects of segregation, Jim Crow era politics and the lack of upward mobility and economic opportunity for all citizens," he continued. "Last summer showed us that more work needs to be done. That is why, as we look beyond the pandemic, the focus of civic engagement in our community will be tackling systemic racism."

Marsicano also addressed a related issue in a post-talk virtual reception: this week's public apology for racial inequity by the Arts & Science Council — the organization he ran from 1989 to 1999, before joining the foundation.

He said he hadn't read the report yet, but mentioned that the ASC did take steps to diversify its board and grantmaking during his tenure.

Marsicano also noted that the ASC took some "bold moves" over the years, such as requiring theater groups to begin casting without regard to race. That ultimately gave people of color more opportunities in mainstream organizations, but led to the closing of the African American Children's Theatre.

"That example shows you how complicated this is," he said.

He noted that the ASC also helped fund the controversial LGBTQ-themed play "Angels in America." Because of that, he said, the county commission cut $2.5 million in funding from the ASC.

He said of the report: "I don't want to take it personally. But I hope the full story is told. And I still would say, hands down, we didn't do enough, and we need to do more."

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.