Check out this view

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

Most of us who inhabit or frequent downtown on a daily basis have been awed at one time or another by the view of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts from the intersection of Pinner Street and Finney Avenue looking west.

The photo here is a mirror image of that view. I shot it last Thursday afternoon from the third floor of the center.

I was fortunate to receive an invitation from director Michael Bollinger to tour the center and see its “theatre” and all the other amenities. Few of those, it seemed, transposed any of the letters in their spelling.


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It was my first visit to the facility and I was impressed. As one might expect from a $20 million renovation project (I don’t know if that includes the cost of demolishing the Birdsong Recreation “Centre” and extending Finney Avenue), it’s nothing less than magnificent.

The building retains the hardwood and tile floors, intricately restored wood trim and original windows. Rooms that will house administrative offices for the parks and recreation department along with various classes and the center’s offices, all former classrooms, are huge and bright from natural light, this on an afternoon when the sky was nearly dark from a huge storm moving in.

The seats in the “theatre” are also the original ones that were in the Suffolk High School auditorium, I was told. I tested one and it was comfortable enough.

The coolest part of the building, though, was the old blackboards that were retained. Apparently they needed to hang onto as much of the original structure as possible to qualify for all the preservation grants and/or credits. They wrap completely around many of the former classrooms. Once when Mr. Bollinger had to take a phone call, leaving me momentarily unchaperoned (obviously mistaking me for a mature, responsible 44-year-old adult), I couldn’t resist the urge to rake my fingernails across one of them. I also had a tremendous urge to go into one of the bathrooms and smoke a cigarette and jam a weak, nerdy kids’ head down a toilet. I can’t explain it.

Seriously, when people claimed the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts would transform downtown Suffolk, they weren’t kidding. I think it will have a far bigger impact than did the hotel project.

While I can empathize with those who live in Suffolk’s hinterlands and/or have no interest in or intention of having anything to do with anything cultural and who are critical of our city spending hundreds of thousands of their tax dollars annually in propping up a facility that will likely be primarily utilized by those who perhaps consider themselves elite and spell words with letters intentionally transposed while they don’t have city water or sewer, it would be a shame if we didn’t get behind this thing and do whatever we could to help it be successful.

The half-a-million in the 06-07 budget is something like .004 percent of the total general fund budget. That’s literally a drop in the bucket. It will be successful.