VALDOSTA — The Performing Arts Committee will recommend the city buy the old Valdosta High School Performing Arts Center to replace Mathis City Auditorium.

Valdosta Mayor John Gayle created the committee to consider all possibilities for a new PAC, including renovating Mathis, building a new facility or teaming up with a local entity such as Valdosta State University.

At a Wednesday meeting, the committee approved a motion supporting the old VHS PAC as the best option. The decision to purchase the building at 3101 N. Forrest St. will be left up to the mayor and Valdosta City Council. 

The committee has no buying authority, and VHS officials have said the school system wants to sell the entire campus for about $3.5 million.

Committee officials recently toured the school's old PAC, and many left feeling the building was the best option available to the city.

Several issues were raised about Mathis, such as two events can't be held at the same time due to the auditorium and multi-purpose room sharing a lobby.

City Manager Mark Barber said if the city bought the entire VHS campus — about 57 acres of land — it could host up to five events at a time. 

The option of buying the entire campus was not recommended to the mayor by the committee, only buying the school's PAC. It remains unclear if this is an option acceptable to the Valdosta Board of Education, the property owner.

The school's PAC comes with its own multi-purpose room that has a separate entrance and lobby area, meaning two separate events can happen at the same time in that building. It is also a larger space than the one at Mathis.

For seating, Mathis currently has about 1,200 seats compared to the school's 950, but Barber said the Mathis seats would need to be updated, which would mean losing as many as 100 seats.

Sementha Mathews, executive director of the Annette Howell Turner Center for the Arts, raised concerns about the school's ability to host some of the center's larger shows. The school's PAC lacks some amenities needed for larger productions, she said.

She asked the committee to consider making some improvements to the PAC to accommodate bigger production pieces.

At a recent mayor forum, hosted by RKDS Film Festival at the old VHS Performing Arts Center, some mayoral candidates were uninterested in buying the PAC.

Former Valdosta Fire Chief J.D. Rice said he is more interested in having a facility larger than Mathis rather than smaller.

Richard Hardy, chairman for the committee, said he would love to build a $40 million PAC that fulfills all the city needs and requirements but doesn't think city residents would support such a project.

A PAC project was offered to residents for a special purpose local option sales tax vote several years ago and failed.

Hardy said building an expensive facility would put it out of the price range for many residents who would want to rent it.

After months of consideration, every member of the committee agreed Wednesday the old VHS PAC is the best option available. It will be up to the mayor and City Council to make a final decision on the matter.

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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