Roving Reporter | "Rockport Center for the Arts Public Meeting Draws Overflow Crowd" by Jeanette Larson

An overflow crowd filled the meeting room at the Public Safety building on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 for the first public meeting to receive input on the construction of an arts, performing arts, and conference center. Many of the more than 120 people in the crowd were there to learn the fate of the Kline Building, currently owned by the Rockport Center for the Arts. Over the last couple of weeks rumors have been flying around on social media about concerns that plans called for the iconic building to be demolished. Luis Purón, Executive Director of the Rockport Center for the Arts (RCA), began the meeting by thanking the crowd for coming out to show "support for the future of the arts" in Rockport. He went on to state "There are no plans to demolish the Kline building" and that references to that possibility have been removed from the Economic Development (ED) grant.

Purón continued with a history of the current project, which began in 2015 and calls for building a 10,000 square foot or larger campus on the properties at 106 and 204 South Austin Street.

This would more than double the size of the old RCA building which was lost to Hurricane Harvey. Purón emphasized that drawings being shown are concept drawings only, to use for fundraising and the beginnings of design discussions. The project would include two buildings and sculpture garden connecting the two sides of the street. One building would provide space for performance of plays, films, musicals, and such, while the other offers galleries, studios and classrooms, and conference rooms.

Kim Foutz, Aransas County Long Term Recovery Specialist, discussed the process for applying for the Economic Development grant that would fund 80% of the project. She indicated that 20% would be a match from local sources and other grants and gifts. She discussed how studies and focus group meetings had shown that the art center was the number one priority to focus on first in bringing back venues back after Harvey and expanding on those venues.  Foutz stated that this meeting is one of the early steps in a long process. The grant application is being submitted by the RCA and the City of Rockport with the support of many other local organizations and groups. The application stage includes public meetings such as this one. Foutz also talked about the need for space in Rockport to draw conferences and large meetings to the city. She stated that the current plans for conference space are actually too small and that she is looking for funds to expand the area by at least 2000 square feet.

Luis  Purón (photo courtesy Vicki Totten)

City Manager, Kevin Carruth, spoke about the critical need for this center to move downtown forward. The project was called a "game changer" by several speakers. Carruth mentioned that the city is assisting investors looking for projects that "invest, buy, or rent" business opportunities downtown. Luis Purón added information about the condition of downtown business assets, including vacant buildings, blighted properties, empty lots, buildings under repairs, and businesses that are closing. Building the new center is expected to double visitors to Rockport's downtown, according to a Texas A&M research study.

Libby Krause (photo courtesy Vicki Totten)
Following the formal presentations, the program was opened up for public comment. Notably, Valerie Kline, daughter of Shorty Kline, drove 9.5 hours to be at the meeting. She stated that she supports the arts and was glad that the "arts folks see the beauty in an ugly old building." Although the RCA had stated earlier that the Kline building will not be demolished, most speakers shared their memories and reiterated their desires to see the building preserved. Jennifer Day, President of the Rockport Cultural Arts District, stated that the "cultural arts district fully supports the Rockport Center for the Arts facility, as well as the performing arts facility." Some questions dealt with specifics, like parking, but ultimately most attendees supported the idea that all parties will come together to make the proposed project a reality.

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