By Gregory Wallace

On Aug. 14, Atlanta Ballet opened the doors of its new headquarters, the Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre, in West Midtown. At 54,000 square feet, the facility is nearly twice the size of its West Peachtree Street predecessor. The Centre is also the first arts organization building to receive Gold LEED certification, the second highest rating awarded for sustainable building construction.

The purchase and renovation was largely supported by the “Choreographing our Future” campaign, the largest fundraising effort in the Ballet’s 80-year history. The campaign began in early 2009 with an original goal of $14.8 million, which was subsequently expanded to a total $19.3 million. The Centre is named in honor of Atlanta philanthropist Michael C. Carlos, through a leadership campaign gift from the Michael C. and Thalia N. Carlos Foundation. Other major donors include the Kendala Foundation, who contributed specifically toward the goal of LEED certification.

From the beginning, plans were made to build a facility that was environmentally friendly. The Ballet chose to renovate an existing building, a manufacturing plant originally constructed in the 1950s for Hotpoint Appliances, to reduce the environmental impact. LEED-design strategies were also integrated, including energy efficient lighting, recycled carpet, donated office furniture, dual flush toilets, and low flow faucets and shower heads. Ninety-eight percent of all construction waste was recycled and diverted from landfills and even the rocks from the renovation were donated to Zoo Atlanta.

In just over 24 months, the project team, led by Holder Construction, completed the $10 million dollar project, finishing on time and on budget. “Approximately $500,000 of the renovation budget was dedicated to environmental initiatives,” said Tommy Holder of Holder Construction. “This investment will allow the organization to realize a significant reduction in long-term operating expenses, while reaffirming their dedication to environmental stewardship.”

Beyond the LEED certification, the building is noteworthy for several other reasons. Atlanta Ballet Executive Director Arthur Jacobus, who joined the company at the height of the project in Dec. 2009, has served as chief executive of six major arts organizations across the county.

Jacobus described the difference between the old and new facility in terms akin to night and day. “What sets it apart from old building is, of course, everything. We didn’t have hot running water and air conditioning, you know, all of those things that one takes for granted. The hot water heater had broken, and it’s not like your house one. It’s for a whole building. It’s very expensive to replace, and so they just kind of shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘well we’re gonna move out of here anyway in a couple of years, so we won’t replace it.’ So something as basic as hot water or air conditioning, they didn’t have. It was an older facility, so it was not as nice and shiny and new and clean as this one.”

The new space provides a location that not only serves the company but better serves the community as well. The Centre for Dance Education serves thousands of students each year, and special amenities were included to accommodate their needs, including private dressing/locker rooms and a student library. There are plans for a 200-seat black box theatre, which will be open to other local arts organizations as performance and rehearsal space.

Even more important than these amenities are the five new dance studios at the heart of the Centre, which are at least the size and configuration of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre stage where Atlanta Ballet performs. As Jacobus notes, it is difficult to understate the importance of this development decision. “You don’t have to recalibrate,” he said. “The dancers can learn something in the studios, and then they can go right on the stage and all of the special considerations are the same.”

This one to one stage ratio is even more advantageous considering the new facility’s unprecedented level of on site storage. “I’m not aware of another [dance studio] that actually has this,” said Jacobus, “none of them have the warehouse, the shop, the costume storage, and virtually everything that is involved in the operation of the ballet company under one roof. It has such economic advantages because we’re not paying $30,000 a year for a warehouse on the outskirts of town. Plus, when we need the stairs for Romeo and Juliet, for a rehearsal, we just go in the next room and drag them into the studio. We don’t have to take a truck and a couple of stagehands to go get it. So, there are economic and logistical advantages to that. That’s the one thing I say can definitely sets this facility apart from others around the country.”

The response from the community to the Centre has exceeded Atlanta Ballet’s wildest expectations. “We were just blown away by the grand opening,” said Jacobus. “We had no idea that that many people would be interested.”

According to Jacobus, the new facility has had a similarly energizing effect on Atlanta Ballet itself. “The Board is just absolutely pumped,” said Jacobus. “They’re so proud, the staff too, and the dancers. Everyone is so proud of this facility. And it gives the organization kind of a different feel. Everyone feels more professional. We feel more proud to be part of the organization. And it’s really ignited the board in terms of their advocacy for the organization as it applies to fundraising and bringing their friends in to see the building and taking them to the performances and all that. So we’re on a roll right now, and a lot of it is attributable to being in this building.”

The Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre is located at 1695 Marietta Boulevard NW. For more information on Atlanta Ballet, including the Centre and current season, visit www.atlantaballet.com or call (404) 873-5811.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.