Combined children’s library, theater set to open

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — ImaginOn, a $52.6 million facility uptown that will combine library and theater resources and activities for children, is gearing up for its debut.

Scheduled to open to the public October 8, the 102,000-square-foot facility will house the youth services division of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

The youth services division will relocate from the library’s main branch uptown, while the children’s theater will relocate from its offices on Morehead Street.

The two organizations have teamed to manage the county-owned facility, built with $27.4 million voters approved in a bond referendum in 1999.

In addition to those funds, supplemented with nearly $5.7 million approved by the county board of commissioners in 2002 and $1.5 million from the library system in 2003, the joint venture raised nearly $12 million in endowment in 2000 to support programming.

The initiative also has raised another $2.2 million in a $2.5 million campaign, mainly to support interactive installations in the building’s lobby designed by ESI Design in New York City.

Those installations will include electronic hubs at which children can create stories or performances, including scripts, costumes, sets and music.

Children will be able to use the hubs to work together and, with a library card, to save, retrieve and email their work, while children at computers in other locations will be able to plug into the ImaginOn website.

“Our hope is that through web interaction, kids across the state will be able to be part of what’s going on in the building here,” says Linda Reynolds, director of development for the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte.

Chaired by Patty Norman, vice chair of the library trustees board, the campaign recently received a $1 million grant from the Triad Foundation in Ithaca, N.Y., that challenges ImaginOn to match it dollar for dollar.

The campaign, which already has raised nearly $500,000 toward the match, also has received a $475,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and $200,000 from Patty Norman and her husband, Tommy Norman, who owns Norcom Development.

The library portion of ImaginOn will serve children up to age 18 with books, music, DVDs and technology, and will include 4,000 square feet for teens that will include a high-tech studio with features like virtual backdrops and the capability for improvisation and claymation productions.

“It’s the youth services part of the library with a kick,” Reynolds says.

The Children’s Theatre portion of the facility will include the 570-seat McColl Family Theater funded with a $1 million gift from the family of Hugh McColl, retired CEO of Bank of America, and the 250-seat Wachovia Playhouse funded with a $550,000 gift from the bank company.

The partnership plans to create thematic programming that integrates activities at the library and theater.

In its 2005-06 season, for example, the Children’s Theatre will stage “Shakespeare Stealer,” a mystery by Gary Blackwood, based on his book, about a young boy who learns shorthand from a pharmacist and is sent to Shakespeare’s theater to copy his plays.

Information about the play will be posted on ImaginOn’s website and distributed in its newsletter, and Blackwood will visit local library branches and schools, and speak to the audience at a performance in February.

“This venture epitomizes what collaboration is about,” Reynolds says, “and it will benefit the youth and families of our community.”

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