I can’t help but notice how many folks walking downtown stop in their tracks and look up to gaze at the stunning exterior of the newly renovated Spire Center. Over the past two years this 138-year-old former church went from a much-discussed eyesore (on par with Bert’s Landing) to something we’re proud to showcase when friends and family visit.

But this renovation wasn’t cheap. It cost $650K to purchase the building in 2012 and $3.6M to renovate its exterior, with all those funds coming from the Community Preservation Act (CPA). While I’m supportive of this investment, it’s critical that the organization running the Spire (a nonprofit called the Greater Plymouth Performing Arts Center; GPPAC) makes the most out it.

Since 2003, Plymouth property owners been paying a 1.5 percent surcharge on property taxes to fund the program, and, in return, the State provides a base match of 21 percent (it was 100 percent in the early days of the program). This is real money, folks; tens of millions have accumulated and been reinvested in the community since the start of the program.

These CPA funds are precious and have supported several major impactful projects.  Renovations of the 1820 Courthouse, Plymouth Center for the Arts, and Old Harlow House, the conservation of thousands of acres of land, and the much-anticipated re-opening of Stephen’s Field. All these projects benefitted from CPA funds.

It’s a little too early to tell what impact the $4M+ investment in the Spire will have.

On one hand, it’s undeniable that the building looks spectacular and is no longer an eyesore in the center of town.

On the other hand, the Town of Plymouth provided a 100-year near free lease of this architectural masterpiece to GPPAC, with the stated goal of turning the Spire into “a mecca for the arts and showcasing music, theatre and dance performances as well as education that supports the performing arts.” This goal is ambitious.

We all want GPPAC to succeed – our investments make this clear. We would love see top artistic talent without having to schlep to Boston or Providence. And I think things are headed that way.

My buddies and I have been joking about whether the programming at the Spire is getting better or we are just getting older and the bands we like are playing smaller venues. It’s probably a little bit of both, but we all agree that the quality of acts is diversifying and improving.

I’ve spent more time at the Spire in the past year than the previous seven years combined. I’ve gone to several concerts I would typically drive to Boston or Providence to see (e.g., Rhett Miller, Jonathon Richman), have enjoyed the lobby series featuring local artists, and, wow, have those Shady Roosters made Sunday afternoons fun again, especially for families looking for live music and cold draft beer.

Below I offer a few ideas to GPPAC to help build momentum and help the community understand how their investments are paying off.

Take advantage of the shiny new castle you just inherited and expand the private rental program. Change the rental policy so that folks can rent the venue of Fridays and/or Saturdays a few times a month. Think rich people spending silly amounts of money on weddings. Charge them a premium and don’t be shy – they’ll pay it.

Use this new revenue to create an endowed fund that (i) subsidizes the costs of tickets for Plymouth residents, (ii) funds free concerts, performances, and educational workshops for the community, and (iii) aggressively pursues and diverts top talent from the Boston and Providence markets.

Then communicate these efforts broadly to the community. Each year write up an annual report that tells us how GPACC is doing, ideally with goals and metrics for success. This last step is important – we all want to hear about your accomplishments and how the community can continue to support GPACC’s mission. ­­

Plymouth has gifted you a castle – now it’s time to make it a mecca.

Collin Ward

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