GREENSBORO — More than three months after its scheduled grand opening, the city’s new Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts still awaits its first live performance.
Like every other venue, it sits empty of entertainment amid the coronavirus pandemic until government, operators, entertainers and audiences feel ready for its opening.
In the meantime, contractors continue fine-tuning amenities in the state-of-the art venue downtown at 300 N. Elm St.
Matt Brown, the managing director of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex , which will oversee the Tanger Center, says he doesn’t know when it will open for live entertainment.
That will depend on when the state of North Carolina lifts restrictions on large crowds, when acts are ready to tour and when audiences are ready to fill the 3,023-seat house.
Nationally, some major venues have closed the curtain on 2020 and moved shows to 2021.
“We would never give up hope that we could do something this year,” Brown said during a Thursday visit to the 110,000-square-foot building with an exterior primarily of limestone, glass and stucco. “We’ll do it when it’s safe to do it.”
Economics also play a major role.
Phase Two of Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-part plan to reopen North Carolina’s economy prohibits most large gatherings. On Wednesday, he extended that phase until July 17.
When crowd restrictions are lifted, the Tanger Center perhaps could host a breakfast or luncheon for 200 to 300 people, Brown said.
But for a live performance in the auditorium, economics require that it be at close to full capacity.
In most cases it’s not financially feasible to fill every other seat or every third seat, Brown said, so that audiences can maintain social distance from each other and try to prevent the spread of the respiratory virus.
A venue then would have to charge an astronomical ticket price to pay a major artist.
“We still have many months in 2020, that we hope we have the opportunity to entertain events,” Brown said. “But until we get past this time period where we’re restricted from having full capacity use, then it’s not practical.”
On Thursday, the earliest performance now scheduled — musical icon Patti LaBelle — was postponed from Aug. 15 to May 22, 2021. As with all previously postponed events, tickets that have already been purchased will be honored on the rescheduled date.
No change has been announced to date for the next performance: the Greensboro Symphony presenting “The Music of Queen” on Aug. 21.
When it opens, the Tanger Center will host touring Broadway musicals, concerts, the Guilford College Bryan Series of guest speakers, Greensboro Symphony performances, a Greensboro Opera production, comedy shows and family entertainment.
The center’s construction budget will approach $93 million — nearly $88 million for the project itself and $5 million in bond-related financing costs — shared by the city of Greensboro and private donors.
It is named for the chief executive officer of Tanger Outlets, who pledged $7.5 million for the project.
The venue was ready to open in mid-March, until the coronavirus hit and the governor advised against large gatherings.
That postponed the March 20 ribbon-cutting and Josh Groban concert, the March 21 Tony Bennett concert and the March 22 performance by comedian Jay Leno. Leno’s show ultimately was canceled; no dates have been set for the others.
The Tanger Center has planned safety precautions for the opening: hand sanitizer, masks and gloves for employees, electronic ticket scanners.
And with the extra time, crews have applied other final touches — all within the project budget, Brown said.
They have changed the trim atop low walls in the auditorium’s seating sections to white oak.
The previous trim, Brown said, “didn’t meet the standards of what we thought the building has so finely done.”
They moved some railings in part of the grand tier, the second section of seating. That will provide more room for patrons to enter and exit.
If that had to be done after the venue had opened, “we would have had to shut down for weeks if not a month,” Brown said.
Concrete floors and vents in seating areas have been covered with sealer wax.
For the Meyer Constellation sound system, more insulation had to be installed on the auditorium’s rear wall.
Wall fabric, lights and sound equipment then had to be reinstalled on the wall as well, Brown said.
Stage-curtain adjustments are nearly complete.
And walls in an upper lobby will be refinished.
Although the public might not notice the needs, Brown did. And he wanted it done right, he said.
“We want to take full advantage of this time when we’re obviously down to fine-tune and finish every component,” he said. “So when people finally come in, they’re going to say, ‘My God, it’s perfect.’ ”