July 22, 2015

As Headquarters for Opera Memphis Grows, so does Funding for Project

By Judy Callahan
– The Commercial Appeal –

While construction on their new East Memphis headquarters continues, Opera Memphis officials say they are nearing their fund-raising goal of $7.3 million to pay for the project.

So far, the group has raised $5.3 million in pledges and donations, which amounts to a little more than 70 percent of the total needed, said Dr. William Falvey, chairman of the opera board of trust.

Construction to the 18,664-square-foot building at Kirby and Humphreys began in late April and is expected to take about 11 months to complete, said Troy Houghman project manager with Montgomery Martin Contractors, which is building the facility.

If that timetable is met, the Clark Opera Memphis Center should be substantially complete by March 2003. Weather or other delays, however could postpone that date by a couple of months.

Opera Memphis artistic director Michael Ching is eyeing that early spring date.

“I am hoping to be able to rehearse the last opera there, and that opera begins rehearsals in the middle of March,” Ching said. “That’s what I have my fingers crossed to be able to do.”

When the new one-story building opens, it will include a small performance hall capable of seating 200, rehearsal space, office space and a box office, among other amenities.

The new building will also allow Opera Memphis to consolidate its far-flung operations in one space.

Currently, the company rehearses at Craigmont High, stores its props and costumes on the University of Memphis South Campus and leases office space on American Way.

When the new building opens, all those functions will take place there.

“That’s one of the beauties of it, because it’s so inefficient the way we do it now,” Falvey said.

The new building may also have a few extras, thanks in part to favorable construction labor prices at the moment.

“We have been fortunate to be building during a period when there wasn’t much building going on (in the city). We’ve got a very competitive price,” Ching said. “We’re planning to restore some of the high-quality finishes, probably in the lobby. The lobby’s probably going to have some granite marble in it (that) had originally been cut out.”

What the building won’t include, officials say, is a place for Opera Memphis to stage its regular productions.

“It seems like wherever I go, people are confused about where we’re going to perform,” Falvey said. “Our main stage productions are going to continue to be downtown, probably at the Orpheum and maybe at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts (in the refurbished Memphis Cook Convention Center), if they ever get it finished.”

The fund-raising goal has been aided by donations from two foundations.

The Miami-based Arthur and Alice Adams Foundation has given the group $1 million. The building is being named in honor of Virginia and the late Henry Clark, whose family has ties to that foundation.

Also, the Kresge Foundation, based in Troy, Michigan is contributing $500,000 to the project. That money, however, is in the form of a challenge grant.

If officials raise $6.8 million by April 1, that grant will kick in, providing the final amount.

“In other words, they like to be the last person to take you to your goal,” Falvey said, “So we have a little over 10 months left to raise a bunch of money.”

Also, local opera enthusiast Barbara Marshall is donating more than $600,000. Ching said. Allen Morgan from Morgan-Keegan has contributed $250,000, while the Scripps Howard Foundation also contributed $100,000.

The money raised is being used for the land purchase, the building and construction as well as to aid the opera company’s endowment, Falvey said.

Opera Memphis bought the 2.6 acre strip at Kirby and Humphrey’s from Boyle Investment Company for $1,136,920.