Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dunwoody Theatre - time to include this tradition in our planning

When my first daughter was just a tyke in a stroller, we took her to Lemonade Days at Brook Run.  Just past the flea market of artisans was a puppet show (and welcome air conditioning) in the Brook Run Theatre.  It was the first and last time we visited there.

In recent days, Danny and Queenie Ross have regenerated the on-again/off-again discussion about the fate of the old theatre and they have put their money where their mouths are.

Danny's opinion piece from The Crier

From the column:

It is now time to address another major need: A facility to support the performing arts. Our mindset needs to change to thinking of art, not as entertainment, not of education, but of economic development. For certain it is a key ingredient to the fabric of a world-class community that we strive to be. The income level of our citizens together with the educational level dictates that this should happen. In the future, new corporations will look elsewhere if Dunwoody does not offer its workers this important quotient in the equation of quality of life.
Below is an email I sent to John Heneghan back in July 2010, when this blog was just the "SDOC Publishing professional blog", about a year before I started adding municipal commentary and it became the "Dunwoody Working Girl".  Emphases added by me for this post.


If you're seriously interested in input on Brook Run, here's mine:

The park has become the defacto fairground for the city, first with Lemonade Days, now with the Music Festival and who knows what else will come in the future. In addition, most parks are uber-structured: this little plot is for little kids, that little plot is for tennis, etc etc etc. What Dunwoody *doesn't* have is a general common. (Think Piedmont park.) A place where people can just be, walk with a stroller, sit down with a book, or throw a ball or frisbee around on a whim. IMHO, you'll get a lot more people using the park from different walks of life if there is one area that is not strictly regulated in terms of purpose.

I would also make sure for current and future events at the park that water and places set aside for porta-potties are planned for. I heard some whispers during Lemonade Days that there was a big conflict (or some conflict, not sure how big) over whether the fair could access the water that the Community Garden uses for their crops. Best to avoid that, make sure the infrastructure (read: water) can handle the events already there and not bother the Garden with those needs.

While on that subject, the largest parcel of land (where the main hospital used to stand) is All. The. Way. In. The. Back. Plus, has anyone ever seen the lead/asbestos ablation reports from the County when the hospital was torn down? If so, are they credible? (Yes, that's a serious question.) If it's a place to "just play" or do whatever, the City is going to have to promote the hell out of it - . (Paging the Chamber and CVB......)

Is there any way to increase accessibility to those areas? 100 acres is a lot of land to only have one entrance/exit. Is it possible to build a secondary entrance on the "back" side (and again, promote the hell out of it). Add more sidewalks (one of your favorite causes!) to encourage people to walk there, etc. Another drive-in entrance w/ some parking? More bike racks? If I saw those there (esp the drive in and parking - I'm not putting 3 little tots on a bike or a segway, no matter how much you and other enthusiasts push it. ) I'd use that open area more myself.

The remaining buildings that were offices/dorms from the old hospital: use 'em or lose 'em. If they can be rehabilitated in a cost-effective manner then do so. Buildings that appear to be generally unused regardless of their condition are just waiting for delinquents to cause trouble. If you're keeping the buildings, I say expand their use. How about an annex or alternative to the DeKalb Cultural Center? There's smoother access and more parking than the old Dunwoody Elementary location. I'm involved with an organization that meets at the central location and getting a parking space is a royal PITA. Plus if I have to have the stroller with me I can't jack it up a long flight of concrete stairs. The wheelchair (and stroller) accessibility at the current cultural center is a big, fat joke.

How about using the auditorium (again if it's going to be kept) for more community events - like HA meetings, candidate forums, an alternative to the City Hall location for council meetings. (You want more people attending, right? How about bringing a meeting out of the Perimeter once in a while? Would that be so bad?) I could also see the Chamber holding a meeting there if it was spruced up. All of the above could generate some modest revenue as well.

Technically it can even be an alternative location for the Stage Door Players but you'd have issues with visability versus their current location. I wouldn't expect that thought to go very far, but it's worth throwing out there.  
(New Note:  little did I know that SDP had been working this angle for a while.)

This is all if the buildings can be renovated for less than the cost of new construction. If that's not the case, demolish them, and fast. Use the land for something else. Like a general picnic area with tables and grills under the shade. You don't see many of those around and the DNDC doesn't count.

With the land that we have at that one big park you can do all of this, and there would STILL be room for the dog park AND the community garden to expand. And that's just Brook Run - some of these options could be incorporated (scaled to the size of the land) in other Dunwoody parks too.

I'm proud to support the Stage Door Players and other arts productions when our family has the means.  I remember learning from Robert how SDP is operating on less than a shoestring and I think they deserve better.  As Danny noted in his proposals, there are many arts groups that need a place to call home.  Plus, we need the type of meeting space for organizations that has currently been wasted.  The meeting spaces in the two former classrooms at the North DeKalb Cultural Center would be funny if they weren't so uncomfortable and inadequate.  I speak from a lot of experience with three organizations that meet there.  It's a nightmare to reserve any space and an emotional drag to host anything there because of the condition and parking.

Whether the building can be saved or not, you have a foot print and floor plan that can be used for this purpose.  There is no law saying that such a center MUST be combined with a City Hall.  Just because Sandy Springs is taking that route doesn't mean that Dunwoody has to be the "me too" kid on the block.  You've got the space.  You've got the parking capacity (between the park itself and PCMS).  You've got the collective memory of a theatre there.  The concept isn't broken, there's no need to fix it.  It also does not have to be evaluated or planned to the exclusion of other city needs.

Bravo to Danny and Queenie for putting verbs in the sentences and money where it needs to be so Dunwoody can finally take some kind of action on these facilities.


Brent M said...

Is Brook Run Park the best location for a performing arts center?

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Hi Brent--
Thanks for stopping by.
Given the infrastructure we inherited and the fact that any land that the City acquires is converted to a small park not amenable to performing arts or sold to developers for housing, I do believe it is the best we have.

Brook Run is on a major arterial street leading to 285. It has a MARTA stop at the main entrance so there is existing mass transit access. It has far more parking than you can find anywhere else in town short of Perimeter Mall, when you factor in parking within the park itself and at PCMS. The topography is flat enough for ADA access without special construction. It is equally accessible to residents in the community as it is to visitors. At the same time the current footprint is insulated from its closest residential neighbors, minimizing any "impact" its activities may have.

In the bigger picture, I believe that Dunwoody will strengthen its community by distributing its assets throughout the city where that is feasible, rather than concentrating them in one place. For example, Dunwoody Village - A *SHOPPING CENTER* is considered the "Heart" of Dunwoody. That's all well and good, except that other parts of the city do not get the same investment in civic pride and development as this one small area. Civic pride and value of development belongs in the entire city, in all districts, not just specific favorites. I believe that retaining the theatre as a performing arts location would be a step in that direction. (At this point I'm close to making a segue into the Winters Chapel/Peeler gateway redevelopment and my opinions on a delay of civic pride in this area. But that's a post for another day.)

Thanks again. It's about time we had another beer.

Max said...

Thoughtfully written and chock full of questions that make sense.

Your description 'uber planned' is fitting and I do not want to see that sort of format for Brook Run. that may be hard to achieve given that engineers and planners are putting the process together.

We need a Grand Lawn. Dan Weber said so awhile back and I have always felt that sort of use is idyllic for most people.

The idea of spreading uses in multiple areas has merit especially when land is costly and scarce. You list some good reasons to support a Theater in the Park.

Well done, I hope Mayor Davis and all of our hard-working City Council were copied on this article.