It was like a Cinderella story in reverse. Saturday night, the $66.5 million Tempe Center for the Arts celebrated its grand opening with an elegant blacktie soiree with 600 of the East Valley’s VIPs in attendance.
http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/page/flash?h=555&w=800&file=tca/tca.swf',800,650)" class="content-link">Tempe Center for the Arts interactive
Come Sunday afternoon, the downtown arts center offered a radically different scene. An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 members of the general public — trying to stay cool in tank tops and flip-flops — got their first peeks of the venue at a free open house for families.
A steady stream of the hoi polloi packed the center’s two theaters, visual arts gallery and multipurpose Lakeside room, milled about on the patio overlooking Town Lake and the reflecting pool that wraps around the Lakeside — literally exploring the center from top to bottom.
Attendees watched short performances by Childsplay, Desert Dance Theatre and Tempe Little Theatre; they stood shoulder to shoulder to observe the Tempe Symphony Orchestra rehearsing in the Lakeside; on the park grounds outside, under tents, they noshed thousands of free burgers, hot dogs and ice cream while children had their faces painted.
It may not have had the tuxedoed glamour of Saturday night’s concert by jazzer Natalie Cole, but Sunday’s event left many first-time visitors dazzled by the Valley’s newest arts center.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but this is unbelievable,” said Tempe resident Sandy Johnson, taking in the view of Town Lake from the patio..
Artists and volunteer ushers had been told to expect 5,000 to 10,000 people Saturday; the resulting doubled amount created slight traffic headaches for early attendees, they said, but the 90,000-square-foot facility seemed to handle the throng well enough.
Gallery coordinator Michelle Dock — standing outside the gallery doors with the look of an overwhelmed but delighted party hostess — called the public open-house a “trial by fire.”
And as far as the center’s administrator, Don Fassinger, was concerned, the TCA passed its opening weekend with flying colors.
“For a brand-new building,” he said, “I’m surprised there’ve been no surprises.”