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Cape Fear Regional Theatre wants power lines put underground

Theater’s directors present request to Fayetteville Public Works Commission


As the Cape Fear Regional Theatre seeks to raise $22 million for its remodel and expansion, its leaders would like the Fayetteville Public Works Commission to move the surrounding power lines underground so they don’t obscure the view of the renovated building.

Artistic Director Mary Kate Burke and Managing Director Ella Wrenn presented the theater’s request during Wednesday’s semi-monthly meeting of the Public Works Commission. The PWC’s board members listened and were friendly, but made no promises.

Burke and Wrenn presented new renderings of the project. These showed a vastly remodeled and modernized theater building. The main entrance is to move from Hay Street to Highland Avenue, where there is less traffic and which is closer to where patrons park.

One version of the rendering showed the building with existing power lines and traffic lights in front of it. The other showed the building without power lines and traffic lights blocking the view of the new facade.

“We’d love to find out how we can work together to kind of make something that looks more like this as a tentpole for the economic development of the Haymount district,” Burke said, indicating the picture without power lines.

She noted recent economic development around the theater at the top of Haymount Hill, including the recently opened Haymount Truck Stop, a bar with a food truck court that has drawn vast crowds.

Underground utilities would also make the area more walkable, Burke said, since utility poles would no longer be in the sidewalks.

Fayetteville buried downtown’s power lines in 2000

In an email to CityView later, Burke said the theater construction project will be substantial, and “it would be an opportune moment to extend the incredible work that has been done downtown with respect to beautification and burying the utilities.”

About a mile down Haymount Hill from the theater, utility lines were moved underground in downtown Fayetteville in 2000. This was part of a project to improve the streetscape appearance, The Fayetteville Observer reported in several stories back then. The cost to put the utilities underground was estimated at $3 million, the Observer said in February 2000.

“Notice that the overhead electric distribution lines and other overhead utilities have been removed,” then-PWC Chairman Robert “Sandy” Saunders wrote in a column in The Fayetteville Observer in November 2001, urging residents to be aware of good things the utility has done for the city.

“How would the parades, street festivals, Fourth Friday celebrations, etc., appear without the streetscape changes?” he said.

In her presentation on Wednesday, Burke cited an effort from that period to move utilities underground around the then-new Airborne and Special Operations Museum on Bragg Boulevard at Hay Street downtown.

“Once the building was built, they realized how the utilities impacted the architecture and the building itself,” she said. The utilities around the museum are now below ground.

Theater fundraising total increasing

As of last summer, the theater was pursuing $20 million in grants and donations for the project. Burke and Wren declined on Wednesday in an interview with CityView to say why the figure has increased to $22 million.

Burke said the theater has so far raised $15.2 million.

In addition to private donations, the state has committed $7.1 million, the City Council is putting in $2.5 million and the PWC previously committed $1.25 million.

The Cape Fear Regional Theatre is a nonprofit organization and the community’s oldest local live theater organization, founded in the early 1960s. It presents professionally produced shows, with local performances and professional actors from around the country. Some of its local performers have gone on to professional acting, television and movie industry careers.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

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