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Cornelius News

Cain Center is the result of more than a decade of work

Architect Malcom Holzman calls the Cain Center design “Lake Norman Precise.” / Photo by Dave Yochum

Jan. 6. By Dave Yochum. With a diverse array of performances and a monumental presence in downtown Cornelius, the Cain Center for the Arts will be an exceptional place to experience and participate in the arts in the Lake Norman region.

Architect Malcom Holzman calls the design “Lake Norman Precise.”

The alternating dark and darker brick exterior segments play off the alternating windows and bricks in the live-work units across Catawba. There’s an inviting interior with windows that present unique views of nearby buildings, including the Police Station and distant trees to the north of the Food Lion plaza.

The 400-seat theater is designed for many types of events from performances to meetings and banquets. All seats in the theater will be less than fifteen rows from a presenter, making for direct contact between all participants in a distinctive setting.

The building officially opened with a community open house on Tuesday; hundreds of people attended.

The inaugural performance, with Broadway star Renee Elise Goldsberry, is tomorrow night. Some tickets are still available at $250 each which includes a black tie optional reception.

A little history

Although groundbreaking seems like it was only yesterday—Ericka and Bill Cain used that occasion to thank attendees for the opportunity to give back to their adopted home town—the Cain Center for the Arts has been a decade in the making.

It started with Navigate Cornelius, a citizen-driven envisioning process that was designed to help town leaders know what residents wanted to see in the future, and out of that develop a comprehensive master plan.

The large and diverse Navigate Cornelius committee wanted “key community/shopping activity centers and key development nodes,” which included a cultural arts center and revitalizing historic Cornelius.

Former Mayor Lynette Rinker said nurturing arts is a successful strategy for economic development and possible assistance from the Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council. An arts center was included as a “Key Development Node” and deliverable in the 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan.

Bill and Ericka Cain

Rinker led a board fact-finding trip to Salisbury—where there is a successful arts center in what was a struggling downtown—to meet with planners, town staff, bankers and artists. There were also meetings with NC Cultural Secretary Suzanne Klutzz, the former mayor of Salisbury, to discuss the dynamics of art and economic development.

“When we were in Salisbury, I asked them what their secret sauce was. The answer was to ‘spark the imagination of the entrepreneurs and let the market do its thing,’” Rinker said.

A $20.4 million bond package that included $4 million for town center redevelopment went on the ballot in 2013, and was passed overwhelmingly by voters in November.

“All the credit goes to the citizens of Cornelius…to those wonderful members of Navigate Cornelius who met in each other’s living rooms on Sunday afternoons to produce our master plan and who recognized not only the need for arts experiences in Cornelius to create a better quality of life, but also recognized the transformational power of the arts as an economic engine. These citizens put their money where their mouth was by approving the bond referendum and then personally supporting the development and construction of the Cain Arts Center with their donations,” Rinker said.

$25 million later

Then-Commissioner Chuck Travis was elected to his first term as mayor in 2013.

Looking back recently, he said it was “extremely important” to have specific language in the bond description stating that the location of an arts center be restricted to the historic downtown area of Cornelius.

Travis said the vision was to create an arts district along Catawba Avenue with the proposed Arts Center as the catalyst for new music venues, artist studios, restaurants and retail.

“The intent was to create an active and vital heart for our town and region based on the arts,” he said.

Fast forward to 2016 when the town bought property next to the Police Station downtown. In 2017 there was a  joint meeting of  Town of Cornelius departments, including the PARC Commission, Planning Board, Architectural Review Board, Historic Preservation Committee and Land Development Code Advisory Board to discuss the arts center.

In 2018, the Cains committed $5 million to the $25 million campaign to build the center. Demolition began in 2020 and the groundbreaking was May 14, 2021—after three years of work by architects Holzman Moss & Hart along with C Design in Charlotte.

A massive fundraising effort over the course of five years, spearheaded by Greg Wessling, with a steady, multi-year assist from Mayor Woody Washam, brought in more than $20 million. Engineering and construction executives say careful attention all around resulted in a $30 million project that cost $25 million.

Travis, himself a noted architect, said one of his greatest accomplishments as mayor was influencing the selection of Holzman for the arts center.

“Malcolm is a ‘starchitect’ and one of the most talented architects that is designing performing arts centers in the country. We are extremely fortunate to have Malcolm Holtzman put his design ‘hand’ on our center,” Travis said.

10 years in the making

2013: Cornelius residents approved $4 million from a municipal bond package that included a community arts center. The public-private partnership behind the Cain Center for the Arts was formed.

August 2016: Cornelius agreed to buy a 1.85 acre parcel downtown for a new arts center.

2017: In June, $100,000 allocation from NC Legislature. Months later, Steinberg Hart|Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture was selected.

Justin Dionne

• In July, Justin Dionne became executive director.

2018: In September, Ericka and William Cain, owners of Financial Independence Group, contributed $5 million; project named the Cain Center for the Arts.

• In October, town gets $125,000 state appropriation for the center.

2020: The public phase of fundraising  began in September with a buy-a-brick campaign.

• $17 million in donations.

• Demolition of the buildings near the Police Station started in September.

• Construction timeline for the project was estimated to be 16 to 18 months, with work starting in 2021.

2021: The Cain Center, at $18.1 million toward a $25 million goal, took over the Cornelius Arts Center at Oak Street Mill.

• In April, the winning bid from Edifice General Contractors for construction came in at $16 million—$2 million less than expected.

• Perry Mixter became the development director.

Cain Center groundbreaking ceremony

• May 14: Groundbreaking.

• In December, a $2.5 million allocation from the State of North Carolina.

2022: Construction continued and by April, the center  was a definite presence downtown.

• In November, ticket sales geared up.

January 2023: Official grand opening and first performance.