The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Exit, Stage Left for Long CEO

By Amy Smith, August 1, 2003, News

The economically challenged Long Center for the Performing Arts has hit another snag with the resignation of president and CEO David Fleming, who leaves his post Sept. 30 after three years of trying to break ground on the stalled arts complex.

Fleming has accepted an equivalent position with the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in Green Bay, Wis. -- a venue built, as is the plan for the Long Center, entirely with private funds. Fleming says his biggest disappointment is leaving his post without being able to see the curtains rise on opening night. "I really love running a theatre -- that's what I signed on to do here," he said, explaining his frustration with the delayed project. Fleming moved to Austin three years ago from New Jersey, where he directed the New Brunswick Cultural Center.

The idea for a performing-arts center on Town Lake, in the shell of the old Palmer Auditorium, first sprouted a decade ago and gained its greatest momentum during the boom years, when anything seemed possible -- even converting Palmer into a state-of-the-art arts complex (which over the course of the Long Center project grew from a one-stage to a three-stage hall) with private donations. "We were all pretty cocky, quite frankly, and thought that we could tap all these new millionaires and everything would be fine," Fleming said.

It wasn't, of course. The project stalled out at $62 million, still short of the $110 million needed to build the center. When voters in 1998 approved transferring Palmer into private hands (and replacing it with the new Palmer Events Center), the price tag was only $50 million, but that soared with the decision to build a three-venue complex. Now it looks like the center will be built in phases, with the performance halls and a rehearsal facility going up one at a time instead of in one ambitious swoop. The costs of the facility will shrink along with the square footage, Fleming said.

"We had to go back and figure out how to skin the cat a little bit differently," he said. "Hopefully we'll be able to restore the community's confidence that an arts complex will be built. The idea that the Long Center will serve as a home for a wide variety of local artists is an idea that has to float to the top at some point," he added. "There is an underlying dedication and a clear-cut need."

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