The idea for the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts and Education - a free-standing, 40,000 square-foot, two-story building - started very simply as the brainchild of our VP of Community and Education Alice Roberts.
She came to me with the suggestion of purchasing a building on South Main that was for sale at a modest cost. We needed space for our growing 19 education programs, which currently serves almost 60,000 students annually. When the Orpheum was built in 1928, it was never taken into consideration that it would one day offer such expansive education programs. The theatre was simply not designed to comfortably house them.
Classes are currently being held in the lobby which, because of scheduled public events and performances, keeps the Education Department from being able to offer as many classes as it needs to meet demand. Additionally, the lobby space isn't helpful for teaching some aspects of the arts. For example, the lobby's heavy carpeting can hinder students who are learning dance techniques from a teaching artist. Potentially life-changing educational experiences have in many ways been hindered by the space we currently have.
The more we looked at vacant buildings in Downtown Memphis, the more we realized that all of our options were just too far from the iconic Orpheum – the building that inspired so many of the students we serve.
We started looking at the space surrounding the theatre, and the parking lot immediately next to the Orpheum quickly became a target. It was beside the theatre, it was large enough for the Education Department's needs, and the owners were willing to sell. Needless to say, the Memphis Development Foundation purchased the parking lot, and planning for the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts and Education went underway in full force!
Of course, it wasn’t easy getting everyone on board for a building with a $14.5 million price tag. But we got it done, and we are forever grateful for the many people who believed in this project from the very beginning.
Plans are nearing completion for an anticipated groundbreaking on March 18, 2014, but this project is by no means finished. Currently, we are just shy of having raised $10 million of our $14.5 million goal. There is still a lot to be done, but our confidence is high and new and existing supporters continue to rally around this extremely positive and important project that will continue to serve the Mid-South for generations to come.
Orpheum President and CEO