Arts center brings flexibility

Gretna’s $2 million facility set to be complete by next spring

Plans for a new cultural arts center in downtown Gretna should be finished by next spring, and city officials are stressing the concept of flexibility when discussing the new facility.

City Council members received an update on the city’s $2 million cultural arts center at the site of the old Gretna Post Office at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Architect Robert Cangelosi said he expects his firm to be finished with the design of the building by the council’s March meeting, and the city can then solicit bids for construction work.

Exterior repairs to the building are already complete, including a new roof and waterproofing, Cangelosi said.

He expects some minor interior demolition work to be finished shortly.

Councilwoman Belinda Constant has been the driving force behind the cultural arts center, and said she’s ecstatic to see the “black box theater” complete.

Construction of the cultural arts center will happen in two phases, with phase one being a 10,000 square-foot, few frills venue that is flexible enough to host plays, symphonies or even weddings.

“It is ready after phase one,” Constant said. “A black box theater is basically a room to accommodate theater, but it doesn’t have all the amenities of a regular theater… Really a theater, to take it from scratch, is a multimillion dollar project.”

Eventually the city would like to add collapsible seating and a collapsible stage that will accommodate a variety of different productions.

There would also be additional lighting and other amenities, she said.

Phase one was paid for with parish and state funds after Gretna made the initial land purchase.

Cangelosi and Mayor Ronnie Harris said the venue’s flexibility will ultimately allow it to thrive. Cangelosi said in his work across the state, it’s obvious that those historical buildings with multiple uses are the ones that have the most success. The old post office building was built in the early 1900s and is part of the city’s historical district.

“This is a very flexible facility, we’re not locking you in,” Cangelosi said. “If you get locked into one function, you’re dead.”

Constant said it’s amazing how quickly the project has materialized since the city purchased the property in 2007.

Gretna residents have really expressed an interest in increasing the number of cultural events in the city, she said, and the new facility should do that.

In addition, since its available for private rentals, it might also make Gretna money.

“We want this building to be used,” she said. “We want a downtown that’s a live downtown.”