Author: Lawrence Richter Quinn
Date: October 10,2007

A gala opening that raised half a million dollars: Those are the
kinds of numbers management of any spanking-new venue would like to
report just after greeting the public for the first time.
“Those are very strong numbers; everything went exactly the
way I wanted it, without a hitch,” said Michael Taormina,
executive director of the new $145-million Cobb Energy Performing
Arts Centre in suburban Atlanta, who reports that the overall
weekend festivities had no sponsors and total box office revenues
of $200,000. The venue's first weekend, which started Sept. 15,
included a Broadway cabaret show, “Two for the Road,” a
sold-out event with all 2,750 seats priced at $75.The new PAC has a
first-year operating budget of $2.6 million and opened on time and
on budget. Current corporate sponsors include Mercedes-Benz as the
official car, Delta as the official airline, and the Marietta Daily
Journal and Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the official media
sponsors. The facility has a 10,000-square-foot ballroom budgeted
to generate half the venue's annual revenues; 65 events already
scheduled for the year of 89 budgeted, including opera, ballet,
pop, Broadway, magicians and even the Chinese New Year; and the
possibility of adding a second anchor tenant. Filling the need for
a very specific entertainment niche in the greater Atlanta area
with state-of-the-art acoustics and an intimate setting were among
the goals of the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority
when it broke ground on the new Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
in January 2005.“Timing's everything, and no one knows that
better than those involved with the development of a major new
venue,” said Taormina, who left the helm of Houston's Hobby
Center in June 2006 to become executive director at the new Cobb
PAC. “Not only did we come in on budget; in fact, we were
under, with Hardin, the construction company, returning $2.5
million to the coliseum and exhibit hall authority. “On top
of that,” Taormina said, “after the venue was
completed, we had about two and a half months to kick the tires
before we actually opened, and that, of course, was a wonderful
gift.”The three-story lobby's 65-foot, floor-to-ceiling glass
wall is the new PAC's most striking feature visually (it also
boasts two grand staircases and walls of Venetian plaster). The
intimacy of the 2,750-seat John A. Williams Theatre is another
signature item.Beyond that, management is trumpeting its one
thousand parking spaces including valet service and
10,000-square-foot ballroom, where all catering and concessions
will be managed in house. “We can have ballroom and theater
events simultaneously and never the twain shall meet,” said
Taormina. But the key to the PAC's artistic and financial success
will be its theater (designed by Norwalk, Conn.-based Theatre
Projects Consultants) and acoustics of world-renowned Kirkegaard
Associates in Chicago. The Atlanta Opera will make the PAC its
first permanent home after years of bouncing from one space to the
next.“For the past 28 years the Atlanta Opera, consciously or
unconsciously, has been looking for a presentable home for opera,
and finally, we've found one,” said Dennis Hanthorn, Zurich
general director of the Atlanta Opera. “Today we have a
2,750-seat theater but it feels like it's only 1,700 seats because
of the way it’s constructed.”Building the small theater
was the overall raison d'etre of the PAC, notes Taormina , who said
that, until now, Atlanta has been unique among nation's largest
cities in not having a modern, multi-purpose venue designed for
smaller performing arts events. Cobb Energy, the first performing
arts center built in Atlanta in 40 years, will also be used by
Atlanta Ballet and Broadway in Atlanta, and other smaller acts and
events geared toward corporations and events, including weddings
and bar mitzvahs.“We're perfect as an alternative to the
arena experience, for anyone doing an acoustical concert, for
family shows and international events tailored to the many large
ethnic groups living in the city,” Taormina said. “In
Houston I found out how much we would help varying ethnic
communities living there – for instance, we had a very large
Turkish community and we sold out two whirling dervish events —
and we expect to be able to do the same things here.” As
plans for the new PAC progressed, it worked hard to meet the
evolving need of groups like the Atlanta Opera. “When I came,
though, I asked them to expand the theater orchestra pit for 85
musicians; that's what you need if you're going to be able to put
on shows that opera lovers expect, such as 19th-Century Puccini and
works by Strauss and Wagner,” said Hanthorn.”The new
theater has infused the Atlanta Opera with new money both from
corporations and subscriptions,” added Hanthorn. “In
the past 12 months, for instance, we've raised $7 million against a
major campaign goal of $10.9 million to help us with transition and
other costs; that's unheard of for the Atlanta Opera. In addition,
our subscription base has increased 70 percent year over year; of
those, 52 percent are from brand new customers.”The new PAC
is only a handful of blocks from the Cobb Galleria Centre, a
convention center built almost 15 years ago by the Authority that
has made a profit every year since opening. “This is all
about developing downtown Cobb County, for all intents and
purposes,” said Taormina. “This is all a trend toward
regionalization of the performing arts out into counties
surrounding cities. In the old days, those in the suburbs would
have to go downtown to see performing arts shows. Now, though, with
major corporations locating out in the suburbs, people want their
arts performances closer to home, and that's what they're getting
through venues such as ours.”— Lawrence Richter
QuinnInterviewed for this story: Michael Taormina, (770) 916-2802;
Dennis Hanthorn, (404) 881-2255