Mayor sees future performing arts and convention center
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — The town is now the owner of a beach music nightclub.
The $1.2 million purchase of the Tuxedo Junction dance venue and the adjacent Rejoice Community School came after a closed session of town commissioners May 29.
But Mayor Vivian Jones and the rest of the town board envision a lot more than shag dancing in the center’s future. They see a place for performing arts, for dance recitals, for civic meetings. They see a mini-convention center, a wedding hall, a place to hold galas and juried arts shows.
“We have never had a large venue for the town to have arts programming or any kind of big event. Having a performance venue is very important,” Mayor Vivian Jones said during a phone interview following the purchase.
“Think about all the things they have in Raleigh at the convention center. We can do that here now,” she added. “It can have all kinds of events for the community. It’s a big benefit to downtown. We can promote it in a way that will bring people here.”
Tuxedo Junction is located in the former Wake Forest Plaza shopping center across from town hall at Brooks Street and Elm Avenue.
The center, which once housed a grocery store, drug store and 5 and 10 cent store, has been renamed the Renaissance Plaza, for good reason — site developer Craig Briner has for some time seen a potential for high quality uses in the center.
He sold the 10,000-square-foot former CVS on the end to Nelson Leonard, who turned it into Tuxedo Junction.
The Winn-Dixie site became Crossroads Entertainment, a country music nightclub and bar, which has since closed and been converted into the Brooks Street Bowl bowling venue. The former Seafood Shack is the expanded location of Over the Falls Deli and the former Macks Store is the Southern Classic Cars showroom.
Leonard was the gusto behind Tuxedo Junction, which held well-attended beach music type dances every Friday night including last week’s appearance of the Carolina Breakers. After he died, early this year, his widow, Jeannie, approached the town to offer to sell it, according to closed session minutes.
The purchase price is $831,000 for Tuxedo Junction and $350,000 for the school, both which were owned by Leonard. Due to a negotiated purchase agreement, Tuxedo Junction won’t technically close until the last of its contractual obligations are met — four weddings are planned, the last one in October.
And the 3,000-square-foot school will be allowed to operate through the 2013-14 academic year, though its owner will look for a new, expanded space.
$11 million dollar deal
Commissioners have long talked of building a performing arts or civic center and had roughly estimated the cost at about $12 million.
“Great opportunity for the town, saving nearly $11 million by re-purposing an existing building for use as a performing and cultural arts center, event center, multi-purpose facility for the whole community to use,” Commissioner Zachary Donahue said on Facebook. “Best of all, it will cost less to operate this new facility for an entire year than it does to provide the Loop and Express bus service.”
Jones agreed ecstatically with the sentiment.
“Whatever it would have cost, this is a bargain. This will last us a long time,” she said. “It’s not the ultimate performing arts center, but it will provide us a place for lots of activities for a long time. I think it was a great opportunity we needed to take advantage of.”
The town will borrow the money and pay back the cost over the next five to six years, Jones said. As the renovated site is only a few years old, it will require some minor upgrade and repair work — replacing carpets, for example — said Roe O’Donnell, Wake Forest’s deputy town manager. He expects it to be ready for town use by November.
It’s still undecided how it will be run. Town staff provided commissioners a cost estimate should the town decide to run the venue itself. With labor costs, including a full-time cultural arts coordinator (who would have other duties), part-time staff costs, security, utilities and insurance, operations and maintenance, the expense would equal $284,000 annually, according to the estimate.
But the town may consider contracting out the running of the center, so those estimates may change. O’Donnell said town staff is working up a recommendation for commissioners to vote on at their July board meeting.
One consideration that will have to be made is whether or not to continue allow alcohol sales on site.
Town facilities currently prohibit alcohol sales and consumption, but Tuxedo Junction has a full bar and alcohol sales have taken place when it was previously rented out for weddings, the Rotary Club’s Comedy Night and other events.
Jones sees the school site as a place Wake Forest’s parks and recreation could hold classes, of which there is limited space now. That, too, will have to be evaluated. The owner has told the mayor the school has outgrown the space regardless. A call to school director Dr. Sue Romano was not returned by press deadline.
They love beach music
Also up in the air is whether or not Tuxedo Junction will continue to remain the popular dance venue on Friday nights. Upon hearing of the sale, many regulars were dismayed, worried they’ll lose the venue for shag and line dancing.
Tuxedo Junction staff indicated people’s prorated club memberships would be refunded in August.
“This is a nice, nice place,” Brenda Gainey of Zebulon said during the Breakers show Friday. It’s one of three venues she and her husband Butch drive to regularly for dancing.
Jones mentioned that subject in her comments, even suggesting those dance show nights might continue. That would be up to their events planner, whether it be a town staffer or otherwise.
“I hope the local dance studios can use it for dance recitals,” Jones added. “I understand it’s a top notch dance floor.”