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New Clarence Brown Theatre at World's Fair Park Would Be Seven Stories High

Last night the World's Fair Park Working Group held its third meeting over at the Foundry. And what we learned is that if a new Clarence Brown Theatre ever does get built on the greenspace that currently plays host to events like Brewer's Jam, it will be big. 

Like, really, really big. Like seven stories high with 180,000 to 200,000 square feet of space. That big.

This kind of confused us, since at the last meeting it was said the theatre would need 55,000 or maybe 60,000 square feet, but those numbers were, we guess, kind of totally made up. For this meeting, the group brought in the University of Tennessee's Associate Vice Chancellor Dave Irvin, who's in charge of facility services (and some other things). Irvin said he was unsure if the space the city had offered* UT, a 200 feet by 200 feet site at the north end of the Performance Lawn was big enough.

*(The city has not actually "offered," per se, anything to UT. That was just the size of the site that the city seemed to think would be the largest feasible to retain enough greenpsace to still be able to call it a park.)

"I think if we're going to make it work, the site needs to grow a little," Irvin said. CBT Artistic Director Calvin MacClean agreed. "We envision a theatre center like there is in Denver or Dallas," MacClean said. "We could really use 25 more feet." Later in the discussion, MacLean broadened that to 40 or 50 more feet.

The city's chief public policy officer, Bill Lyons, who has been spearheading the entire process, seemed initially taken aback by the scale of the proposed CBT. "My first thought is that it kind of overwhelms the park," Lyons said. But by the end of the meeting Lyons was on board with Irvin bringing a more detailed envisioning of the theatre building, both on a 200 by 200 foot site and on a larger footprint, to the next meeting. "There's no harm in getting a little more information or a design," Lyons said.

The group also, for the first time, discussed an outdoor performance venue on the site, which could take the shape of a larger amphitheater than the one that's already in the park. Group member Ashley Capps seemed skeptical that the two four acres could hold both the theatre and a performance venue, given challenges with sound and scheduling around events. But Capps seemed enthusiastic about the idea of an amphitheater in general and suggested the fairly new Charlottesville Pavilion as a possible template. (We must say, it looks pretty cool.) Another idea was that the amphitheater would back up to the CBT, possibly allowing the theatre department to hold outdoor performances there too.

Will any of this happen? Will none of it? Will everyone agree on an idea only to have it shot down by the public? We'll have a better idea after the next meeting, which will likely happen at the end of next month. Stay tuned.

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