Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nonprofit eyes Orange Beach for arts facility

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register


Beach CITE Studios had earlier agreed to build education center in Gulf Shores

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH — A nonprofit that earlier this summer struck a deal to build and operate a 6,700-square-foot art education center on city property in Gulf Shores has backed out of that deal and instead proposed putting its facility in the next city over.

Beach CITE Studios Inc. struck a 99-year, $1-a-year lease agreement with the Gulf Shores City Council in February. Its leadership said in June that it expected to open its art center at the corner of West 19th Avenue and West Second Street early next year but that deal fell apart.

As the nonprofit sought approval for its building designs this summer, Gulf Shores officials sought to develop the public space with green building techniques, but Beach CITE Studios representatives said adding things like landscaped stormwater retention basins and a permeable parking lot would price the project out of their budget.

"At the end of the day we just had a different vision," said Jim Coughlin, the nonprofit's executive director. "We were virtually devastated that didn't work out."

About a month ago, the nonprofit approached Orange Beach leaders about building their facility on municipal property along Canal Road just south of the city's Arts Center and The Hot Shop, a public glass-blowing studio that opened this month.

Mayor Tony Kennon said that the nonprofit would build and operate the studio on public land at no cost and that there would be no city money involved.

Should the arrangement fail after the facility is built, Orange Beach would get to keep the structure, he said.

Beach CITE Studios — CITE stands for community interactive teaching experience — was founded last October as a 501(c)3 organization by area residents Dan and Linda Scott and Drew Osika. A donation from the Gulf Shores-based Camille Schroeder Charitable Foundation, which Coughlin also runs, is paying for construction of the facility and its initial operating funds, but the organization has said it plans further fundraising.

Coughlin said the building proposed for Orange Beach is virtually the same as the one that had been planned in Gulf Shores: "There will be a culinary kitchen, dance studio, music room, three or four different rooms for painting and things of that nature, a creative writing lab.

"We're trying to reach out to a variety of arts."

Coughlin has said he envisions the facility offering both private lessons and group instruction in several disciplines. During the day the focus would be on programs for preschool and home-schooled students and senior citizens. After-school, evening and summer programs are also anticipated, along with recitals, showings and other events.

During a Tuesday work session, each member of Orange Beach's City Council, Kennon and numerous residents voiced support for bringing the project to Orange Beach. Councilwoman Pattisue Carranza, however, said she'd prefer it be built behind the city's Adult Activity Center, on the Wolf Bay waterfront, leaving the area in front of the Arts Center available for festivals and other special events.

"They spent a lot of time exploring options in Gulf Shores and they came to us ... just over a month ago," Carranza said. "I don't want to be told this is the only place it can be; there are other options."

Other elected officials disagreed. They cited the added cost of filling in wetlands and building up a foundation at the waterfront site, the potential need for that space for a library expansion, and the desire to put all the art buildings in one spot as reasons they preferred the Arts Center parcel.

"After looking at the sites," said Councilwoman Joni Blalock, "I believe this is the best place for it."

Kennon said it was Coughlin's "prerogative to tell us this is the only option because it's his money."

The mayor's informal tally of the council members indicated that they would consider the proposal to build it near the Arts Center at the panel's Tuesday meeting.

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