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DPAC: Can the Carolinas' largest theater rise to the times?

High prices, hopes, anxiety, stakes

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The timing isn't the best, but the Durham Performing Arts Center is opening at the end of the month. When the plan to build a 2,800-seat theatrical venue in Durham was hatched, the nation was on a building binge enabled by loose credit. The economic backlash is in full effect, but there's some consolation in that at least the building is complete and ready for business.

The city is banking on the ability of PFM/ Nederlander, a consortium including the biggest theater operator in the entertainment industry, to use its clout to deliver top-notch, profitable entertainment at prices residents can afford. We take a closer look at the programming, which thus far includes Broadway offerings along with a mixture of comedians (Robin Williams, Bill Cosby), musicians (Aaron Lewis, John Legend) and celebrity authors (David Sedaris, Anthony Bourdain).

The Indy has followed the evolution of the DPAC from its beginnings in community meetings to a Nov. 14, 2007, cover story that reported Durham's enormous financial risk, and the scanty commitment of PFM/ Nederlander, whose original 10-year contract with the city to cover any DPAC losses was whittled down to five. We also noted that the city's revenue projections depended on as-yet unsold naming rights. Some of the available rights have since been sold, but the building itself awaits a lucrative corporate moniker.

The author of last year's story, Indy staff writer Matt Saldaña, has uncovered documents that raise new questions about the role of the city's Office of Economic and Workforce Development in the project, including a previously unreported, unscheduled payment by the city to PFM/ Nederlander.

Although the developers of record, Philip Szostak Associates of Chapel Hill and Garfield Traub Development of Dallas, appear to have brought the building in on its $46.8 million budget, Indy music editor Grayson Currin reports that significant technical compromises were made to meet the budget, and that the facility's claim to a "state of the art" sound system is not quite so.

Construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the theater, and DPAC will open for business Nov. 30 with B.B. King headlining the first "Bull Durham Winter Blues Concert." The following evening is the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, which will also include the unveiling (and switching on) of a light sculpture by the Catalan artist Jaume Plensa. The inaugural celebration of DPAC takes place Saturday, Dec. 13, in a show headlined by Legend. —David Fellerath

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