Among the challenges faced by thriving communities is ensuring the future does not blot out the past. As cities grow and evolve, it is common for the threads of local history to become frayed or even severed. Sometimes, once-prominent contributors to a city’s character are simply lost to the march of progress.
That’s why we welcome creative ways to breathe new life into old community cornerstones, and the recent news that the Capitol Arts Center will be leased to the Warren County Public Library is a perfect example of this concept.
Newer Bowling Green residents are certainly familiar with the Capitol, the venerable theater that stands formidably on Fountain Square. But the facility’s intermittent usage in recent years belies its rich history as a vibrant anchor of the local art and performance scene. If the library is successful in its plans for the Capitol, though, contemporary Warren Countians should experience the theater in something closer to role it was always meant to play.
The lease agreement clearly has the potential to benefit all involved. A new organization, Arts of Southern Kentucky, was formed to oversee both the Capitol and the larger and more modern Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center. Arts of Southern Kentucky will lease the Capitol from Warren County for $5, then will sublease the theater to the library for $400,000 annually. As the region emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, this arrangement will allow Arts of Southern Kentucky to focus on guiding SKyPAC toward financial success, according to the organization’s chief executive, Jeff Reed.
Meanwhile, the library gets full access to the Capitol and the opportunities that come with it: Among the possibilities already mentioned by WCPL Director Lisa Rice are author visits, Southern Kentucky Book Fest events, live music, drama workshops and even a used book store. The scale of some such events could grow as well, since the library will less often need to seek special accommodations for major bookings. Rice also said the library plans to make some functional and aesthetic improvements to the building, which dates to the late 1890s.
Doug Gorman, a Warren County magistrate and chairman of the Warren County Downtown Economic Development Authority, told the Daily News that the Capitol could eventually host as many as three events a week. Should that come to fruition, it’s difficult to imagine a bigger boon for a downtown area aching for a resurgence following the pandemic.
A revived Capitol Arts Center acting as a reliable magnet for downtown traffic will undoubtedly boost the fortunes of the entire downtown district, and it will allow a vital piece of local history to be preserved – and to better serve a new generation of residents and visitors.