Construction starts on new Gaillard Center

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley exits a trackhoe after using it to demolish a canopy at the Gaillard Auditorium on Tuesday. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley exits a trackhoe after using it to demolish a canopy at the Gaillard Auditorium on Tuesday. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
By Harriet McLeod
Contributing Writer
Published Aug. 22, 2012

“I think it’s time to say goodbye to the Gaillard Auditorium,” Doerte McManus, executive director of the Gaillard Performance Hall Foundation, said Tuesday morning at a downtown ceremony that marked the start of the 44-year-old building’s demolition.

The new Gaillard Center performance hall will have higher ceilings and seat 1,800 people. (Image/Provided)
The new Gaillard Center performance hall will have higher ceilings and seat 1,800 people. (Image/Provided)
As civic leaders and media watched, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley put on a hard hat, climbed into a trackhoe and lowered its boom arm onto the Gaillard Auditorium’s George Street canopy, sending a corner of it crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust.

The auditorium will be renovated into a larger complex called the Gaillard Center. Construction of the $142 million project will take about two years and end in December 2014, said Project Executive Bob Ferguson of Skanska USA construction company.

The construction contract totals $111 million, Ferguson said. Skanska USA’s Durham, N.C., office will work with joint venture partner Trident Construction Co. of North Charleston, planners said.

The new 260,000-square-foot Gaillard Center will include 16,000 square feet of ballroom and exhibition space; a two-story lobby; kitchen and banquet facilities; city offices; 20,000 square feet of lawn and gardens; and a smaller, opera hall with three tiers of horseshoe-shaped balconies. Opera boxes will be on the second level. 

The old Gaillard Auditorium seated about 2,700 people. The new performance hall will be narrower, have a higher ceiling and seat 1,800.

The new arts center will open in spring 2015 as home to the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, a centerpiece of Spoleto Festival USA programming and a place for arts education and public and private events, planners said.

The project’s cost will be split equally between the city and the foundation, which is now in the “silent” fundraising period, McManus said. The foundation said it has already accepted a $20 million initial challenge gift.

The project will have an economic impact of $62 million during construction, according to the foundation. It will create 400 permanent jobs and have an annual economic benefit of about $39 million after its opening, the foundation said.

Gaillard Auditorium opened in 1968.

“The latter part of mid-century modern in America was not kind to architectural design,” said architect Craig Williams of David M. Schwartz Architects Inc. in Washington, D.C., the design firm for the new center. “Our primary design challenge here was to take the product of urban renewal/urban removal and be sure to integrate it back into the fabric of what Charleston is.”

The new center’s design has classical, neoclassical and French Renaissance influences, Williams said.

“What will be created here is something that will pass the hundred and 200-year test,” Riley said. “You will hear music here like you’ve never heard it before.”

Acoustics, a bane of the old auditorium, are being designed for the new hall by Akustiks LLC of South Norwalk, Conn. Fisher Dachs Associates Inc. of New York City are theater consultants for the project.

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Comments:

Added: 22 Aug 2012

For all it's lack of aesthetic appeal, Gaillard Auditorium holds some fond memories for me. I passed the city tourism exam there, enjoyed date nights at the symphony there, and celebrated the life of Philip Simmons with the rest of the community in that concert hall. It is bittersweet to see the building go.

Sarah Ragsdale