Performing Arts Center nears completion


Despite weather delays, construction continues on the Performing Arts center.

Aaron Gotter, Head Photographer

The FMU Performing Arts Center that is currently being built should be ready for its grand gala at some point between late August and early September.

The construction has brought with it some special challenges that were made worse by the weather. Mike Ritchey, the Director of Facilities Engineering and Maintenance, said that rain had caused the deep orchestra pit to look more like a mud hole than part of the construction.

“In the project we plan on five weather days a month,” Ritchey said. “If it rains six days then a contractor can legitimately ask for an extra day. We have 14 extra days of weather in addition to the five per month we allow.”

Ritchey said that the actual construction of the building should be done sometime in January. At that point, FMU is going to be able to practice and see how all of the new technical sound equipment and such works before the building is opened to the public.

Once the construction is done the building will be handed over to the Director of the Performing Arts Center Laura Sims.

As the Director of the Performing Arts Center, Sims will be in charge of taking care of the building as well as choosing the programs that will be performed there.

Sims has worked all over the United States over her career in the performing arts. Her family is from North Alabama, where she attended Auburn University to earn her undergraduate degree. She then attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) to finish her graduate degree. After graduating from UMKC she worked in theater all over the country.

Most recently, before taking the position of director for FMU, Sims spent eight years in Knoxville as the production manager for the Clarence Brown Theater located on the University of Tennessee’s campus. As the production manager, Sims’s responsibility was primarily to make sure that all of the performances started on time and were on budget.

Sims moved to Florence in August of 2007 after she was chosen to be the director of the soon-to-be-built performing arts center.

Sims has played a very important role in the building process associated with a building of this caliber. Besides picking the furniture and equipment that belong in each room, she has expertise that the architects may not have.

“I haven’t opened a building from scratch before, but there are things that my 20 years of experience in theater will help me to point out that may slip by other people,” Sims said.

Sims is excited about the performing arts center because it will finally give the symphony a home and the fine arts center a place to perform.

“But all of the new presenting series programming is what I am really excited about,” Sims said. “I just think that there are a lot different things that the people of Florence would love to see, and now they don’t have to drive to Charlotte or to the beach to see it. They can see it right here. They can get off of work grab a bite to eat and come downtown to see a show.”

Sims plan for the center’s programming is to start off slowly with five different presenting series on the main stage. She wants to see what the people of Florence like and build her audience.

“We are going to have a music series, as dance series, a Broadway series, a family series and then a series for the things that don’t fit neatly into one of the other categories,” Sims said.

Sims wants the performing arts center to be available to everyone. Pricing will vary by event and by seating location. A student discount will be offered to help encourage student involvement. FMU is currently working out a route with PDRTA to help students on campus get downtown.

For more information on programming and job opportunities, look under the FMU webpage quick links or go to