So Long, Palmer

Before spring is out, contractors will begin tearing down old Palmer Auditorium so it can be become the Long Center for the Performing Arts

Take your last looks at the auditorium formerly known as Palmer. Before spring is out, contractors will begin tearing down the 45-year-old facility so it can finally be transformed into the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Yes, Long Center officials have made the decision to start the physical transformation of the site that will eventually hold the 2,400-seat Dell Foundation Hall and the 240-seat Rollins Studio Theatre. They haven't raised the full $77 million that they project the center to cost, but with $59 million in hand, they're more than three-quarters of the way there, and having raised on average about $500,000 a month since the fall and with several promising large asks in the works, they're in a quite solid position to start swinging hammers.

At present, the Long Center is seeking contractors to clear the building of asbestos and strip it down to its frame, but some should be hired by mid-April, says Donald Rutledge, the center's director of design and construction. Soon after that, the two-month process of asbestos removal can begin, then another two or three months of clearing the innards, removing the windows, and, yes, taking off the domed roof that made the building into the Great Green Turtle of Auditorium Shores. But while ground will be broken in this phase of the transformation, it won't be the groundbreaking for the Long Center. Officials want to save that ceremonial treat for the start of actual construction. Look for a splashy event to mark that in September.

If you've been following the center's progress, you'll realize that's a year after construction needed to start for a projected opening in the fall of 2007, when Bass Concert Hall will be closed to Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin, and the Austin Symphony. With a three-year timetable for construction, that puts the debut of the center in September '08 and the symphony, ballet, and opera out of a home for the 2007-2008 season. You can bet those organizations are looking for alternative venues already, though they have the '05-'06 and '06-'07 seasons to worry about first. But I'll wager that they're also relieved, as we all are, to see the Long Center finally on its way off the drawing board and toward reality.

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Palmer Auditorium, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Dell Foundation Hall, Rollins Studio Theatre, Donald Rutledge, Long Center, Bass Concert Hall, Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin, Austin Symphony

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