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Renaissance center opening celebrates with music, theater, food.
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — Three months after it went dark, the former Tuxedo Junction dance venue came back alive last weekend as the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.
The town-owned center’s Celebration of the Arts showcased the types of acts and entertainments officials would like to see.
“It was an incredible weekend in Wake Forest! So glad our whole family got to be a part of it. Looking forward to all the Renaissance Centre has to offer,” Wake Forest resident Amy Warren posted online.
The center opened Thursday with a Taste of Wake Forest with food from Cannon Catering, Stephens Catering, The Lemon Tree, Charlie’s Kabobs and the Fig Cafe.
On tap for entertainment Thursday night was Transit Vocal Band, which performed rock hits reproducing instruments with their voices and without a backup track.
Thursday, attendees were treated to performances by professional actors with Burning Coal Theatre and the Nickel Shakespeare Girls.
And Friday, the dance floor was packed with people who couldn’t resist jazzmaster Marcus Anderson’s “out of the ballpark” performance, according to center manager Pam Stevens.
“[The] events were awesome. the jazz musician was incredible,” Wake Forest Commissioner Anne Hines said, drawing attention to the crowds. “I feel there really is that need and want in our community.”
“The only word you can use is just awesome,” agreed Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones. “It looked great, it was so much fun, the crowds were different each time, everybody had such a great time. I didn’t hear any complaints, it was all just very positive.”
Guests paid $40 for the opening night gala, $15 for the Night at the Theater and $30 for Anderson or $75 for all three.
Though the gala didn’t sell out, it did draw a sizeable crowd, as did the other events, lending credence to the idea that the town can successfully run its own events venue. That there might be those that take issue with a government-run facility was clear in the remarks of opening night emcee Scotty Henly, who runs a similar venue in Clayton.
He welcomed “enthusiastic supporters, middle of the road observers and those who don’t approve,” noting the center will be a draw for lovers of the arts, bringing people to downtown Wake Forest, boosting the local economy.
“Arts are an economic engine,” he said, adding that top employers prefer communities with a vibrant arts scene.
The 10,000-square-foot building was purchased by town commissioners in May, along with the adjoining Rejoice Community School, for $1.2 million.
The school space will become available at the end of the current school year. The former dance venue is located in Renaissance Plaza, right across the street from the Wake Forest town hall, in the heart of the town’s Renaissance District.
Though the aim is to be a venue for the arts and local nonprofits and civic clubs to run events out of, it can also operate as a large rental space for weddings, Sweet 16s and recitals; and as a civic center for conventions, trade shows, expos, speaker forums and business meetings.
The town will begin taking reservations for community events as soon as the fee schedule is set by commissioners in December. And it’s expected the center will open for all bookings in March.
During a Nov. 8 preview brunch, journalists perused the space, which has seating for up to 300 (chairs only), or 216 with tables and a dance floor.
The center has its liquor permits — a corner has been set aside to run a bar and catering area.
Center staff consists of Stevens, who was former director of Wake Forest ARTS, and center specialist Cathy Gouge, a just retired Franklin Academy drama teacher who last year co-founded Wake Forest’s community theater group, Forest Moon.
“I feel very blessed to have this position and I’m excited, very excited about the possibilities,” Gouge said.
She noted that she hit the ground running. Right after coming on, she and Stevens attended the N.C. Presenters conference and Arts Market — a showcasing of musicians and performers for hire, and upcoming statewide events to get an idea of what’s available and what people are looking for in a venue.
“I’m really, really excited and I’m thrilled that the town of Wake Forest has a facility like this,” said Stevens, noting she hopes events will draw from Youngsville, Rolesville, Oxford, Henderson, northern Wake and Durham. “We want to hear what the community wants. Cathy and I want to know what’s wanted — theater, dance, music — we’re open.”
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Jones credited facilities manger Mickey Rochelle for getting the space redesigned, which cost approximately $178,000. Additional work is ongoing on the front facade and work is needed to convert upstairs storage spaces into offices.
Jones added she’s pleased with the hire of Stevens, whom she has collaborated with for projects in the past, and Gouge.
“They’ve living in Wake Forest and are passionate about the arts and passionate about this center and we’re really delighted to have them,” Jones said.
The center is run under the mantle of Wake Forest Parks and Recreation, which handles events and rentals of town buildings. For more information, see the town’s website at wakeforestnc.gov (see the “Residents” tab) or call 919-554-1379. To speak with Stevens, call 919-435-9566.