Last month, Harrah’s Cherokee was awarded the naming rights for the U-S Cellular Center in Asheville. The organization’s bid offered $3.25 million over the next five years.
General manager of Asheville’s U.S. Cellular Center Chris Corl said a little over $300 thousand a year from those increased funds will go towards renovating the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. The auditorium has not been updated since 1975. The main entrance for performers used to be a window that was converted into a door about 40 inches tall.
“It’s how people remember Asheville,” said Corl. “If they’re not sure if they’ve been here, I say, ‘Hey, do you remember the Hobbit door?’
Corl said he has received feedback on updating the restrooms, seat comfort and back of house capabilities because there’s a lack of space. The U.S. Cellular Center is working with ESA Architects out of Nashville to propose the timeline and cost for the project by August.
Asheville Symphony Orchestra musical director and conductor Darko Butorac said one of the problems with the current auditorium design is performers are unable to hear each other. He hopes the changes will correct this issue and allow the symphony to expand its current programming.
“There is a lot of repertoire out there that we’re not able to perform because of space and backstage limitations,” said Butorac. “So really the renovation ultimately allows us to grow the symphony orchestra to an incredible potential.”
Corl said he sees the project as an investment in Asheville’s future.
“I think this renovation could be the next 50 years for performing arts in Asheville,” he said. “This venue’s been here for almost fifty years. It’s worked very well, but it needs some love.
Corl said he envisions beginning the capital campaign for funding in the next 12 months, with proposed renovations starting in the middle of the next decade.