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Drakes to build 1,500-seat auditorium in Franklin

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Musicians will soon be able add another venue to their tour list next year.

A high-profile Macon County business couple, Phil and Sharon Drake, last week announced plans to build a 1,500-seat performing arts center in Franklin.

State and local leaders, businesses owners and residents came out to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony.

The Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts will be similar to the Fox Theatre in Ga., officials said. The 40,000-square-foot facility, located along Georgia Road near the Drake-owned Fun Factory, will house a 60-foot stage and feature a balcony and box room areas. A Tennessee architectural firm, The Foxhollow-Goodson Group, designed the facility. Construction plans call for a May 2009 opening.

Franklin alderman Verlin Curtis said the art center will be a great economic asset for Franklin.

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“Today’s a great day,” Curtis said. “It’s great to have people who are willing to invest their resources to build this center.”

Singer and performer Nikki Pons of Franklin says the town has needed a performing arts center for some time now.

“It will give local artists a place to perform,” she said. Right now most performances — plays, concerts, dance troupes — use the Franklin High School auditorium.

Phil Drake said the performing arts center will put Franklin on the map.

“For a long time Franklin and our region has been a corridor rather than a destination,” Drake said.

Drake hopes the center will attract tourists to the Franklin instead of driving onto locations like Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

“We don’t give them enough reason to shop here and dine here,” he said.

Once it opens, Drake hopes the performing arts center will join other popular Western North Carolina attractions like the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians outdoor drama “Unto these Hills.”

“We need to do the same things in other regions of Western North Carolina,” Drake said.

The center will not only feature musical entertainment but will also be available for various community events. Drake said it would be a great venue to hold a high school graduation.

“This will only add to Franklin’s ability to draw tourists,” said Tony Angel, chairman of Franklin’s Main Street Program Board of Directors.

The Main Street Program is spearheading improvements in the downtown district. A major goal of the project is to get visitors into Franklin. Angel said the performing arts center will help.

“It’s just the first step in many things to help the local economy,” said Angel.

The Drakes own Drake Software, which produces computer programs for tax preparers nationwide. Over the last decade the company has expanded to include retail, marketing and publishing interests and is Macon County’s largest private employer.

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