Dearborn City Council has approved the first major renovations the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center has seen in over a decade.
The two-phase project is expected to cost $133,765 total, including both a $56,915 renovation to the center's marquee, as well as $76,850 to be put toward restructuring the cafe area, adding two single-occupancy bathrooms and building another party room out of two existing clubrooms.
Dearborn Recreation Director Greg Orner said he hopes to begin the renovations within the next few months. "I'm hopeful that we will have a late winter/early spring construction start," he said. "I haven't checked to see how long it will take for construction, but I'm assuming several months. We should be good to go by the summer of 2011."
The outdoor marquee, which introduces the center to passersby on Ford Road and advertises upcoming events at the center, is in need of refurbishing after a decade of facing the elements, Orner said.
The interior renovations, however, are based less on aesthetics and more on better addressing the needs of center patrons, as well as the city's pocketbook.
Throughout the years, various restaurants that have provided foods for sale in the Ford Center's main court area, the most recent of which was Au Bon Pain. However, both the City Council and Orner felt that the setup was economically wasteful and not serving the needs of residents.
During upcoming renovations, the full-service cafe will be completely removed, and four to six "high-quality vending machines" will take its place, said Orner.
"The center vending and restaurant area concept just was not working," explained Council President Tom Tafelski at the Jan. 4 meeting during which funding for the interior renovations was approved.
"The Recreation Department looked at it and felt that a better concept would be to go to full-service vending areas that provide a large variety of items to people who come to use the facility, but also are profitable to the facility itself."
Orner adds that it just wasn't feasible to have a fully staffed cafe area, given that the amount of traffic was highly variable.
"There was just such an inconsistent flow of business," he said. "A lot of our business is evening and weekend, and it just kind of varies day to day. Some days, they would do extremely well when we have our theater or Hubbard Ballroom were rented, and then other times it wasn't nearly as busy."
Far from the typical candy-and-sodas vending, however, Orner explained that the new machines will be more akin to ones that might be found in a hospital or large business, offering sandwiches, fruit, Hot Pockets, muffins and more.
"We've done some research and they are really some high-quality vending machines available," he said. "We put a couple temporary ones out there and they've done extremely well."
Each machine is also expected to generate commissioned revenue for the center. The two current vending machines, said Orner, already bring in around $250 per month.
In place of the old cafe will be the second part of the renovation: two additional single-occupancy bathrooms, which Orner said will help to better meet the needs of center patrons.
"Seniors and disabled patrons in the theater would have to move all the way around that café area to get to the restroom (before)," he explained. "There are two on the second floor, but this will put two single-occupancy restrooms much closer to the theater, which has been a request to my office and to the city council."
The third part of the interior renovation will combine two of the center's six existing clubrooms into one large space for birthday parties and other large events. The center already has one large party room, but the second is expected to entice more residents into holding their children's or other gatherings there.
The entire renovation will likely have little effect on center offerings, and has a relatively minor price tag, said Orner, given the age, size and use of the Ford Center.
"This is probably our largest expenditure to date," he said. "For a 198,000-square-foot building, we've been very pleased with how well it's held up, particularly with how much traffic comes through the building."
The last major renovation cost $43 million and transformed the center from the Dearborn Civic Center to its current state.
The Ford Community and Performing Arts Center houses a full fitness center, two pools, two gymnasiums, a rock-climbing wall, indoor track, and aerobics area. It also houses the Michael A. Guido Theater, Senior Center and Padzieski Art Gallery. For more information on the center, visit www.dearbornfordcenter.com.