As restoration of The Centrum continues 2 years post-Harvey, local performing arts organizations long for dedicated venue in Spring, Klein

Image description
Image description
Image description
More than two years after Hurricane Harvey flooded The Centrum with more than three feet of water, restoration of the performing arts venue continues, while many of the local arts organizations that used the facility are feeling its absence.

“It’s been hard,” said Nanci Decker, the president of the Cypress Creek Foundation for the Arts and Community Enrichment. “We’ve struggled with people finding us. I think ... people drive by The Centrum and see that it’s still shut down and assume we are too.”

Cypress Creek FACE is just one of several local organizations that regularly used The Centrum—a performing arts venue and church sanctuary located on the campus of the Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center—until it closed following damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

In the venue’s absence, many of these organizations have relocated performances to high school auditoriums and local churches.

“In northwest Houston, we really don’t have any sort of performing arts venue at all,” said Brad Bouley, the founder and artistic director of Texas Master Chorale. “Most churches are too small, and ... high school auditoriums are booked solid.”


As arts groups work to stay afloat while awaiting the reopening of The Centrum, a couple of projects are underway that could provide relief.

A COMMUNITY CENTERPIECE

Located in the heart of the Cypress Creek Cultural District, the Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center opened The Centrum in 1997. The 21,000-square-foot facility could seat as many as 890 people and served as both a sanctuary and performance venue for 20 years.

Norma Lowrey, Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center executive director, said when The Centrum was built, special attention was given to the building’s design as well as to its acoustical wall coverings and wooden stage, which combined to create an ideal performance venue.

However, when Hurricane Harvey hit, not only did The Centrum flood, but so did most of the Cypress Creek Cultural District. Calvin Cobb, who chairs the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts board of directors, said while the museum suffered some damage, it reopened within 15 months.

“The museum is about the highest point on that part of Cypresswood [Drive], so it wasn’t like other places that had 3 or 4 feet of water,” Cobb said. “It was still a really big project, ... but we were able to tear out the flood damage within eight or nine days, which ultimately saved a lot of money.”

In stark contrast, church officials said The Centrum was not so lucky.

“We had 3.5 feet of water after Harvey, so that meant all of our first floor stadium seats were gone. The stage curled. All the restrooms, outlets, air conditioning units, the processor that controlled the lighting and all of the sheetrock 4 feet up had to be removed,” Lowrey said.

While many of the church’s other facilities have since reopened, Lowrey said the church was only able to do so by completing renovations ahead of time and getting reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency afterward. With The Centrum, however, Senior Minister Bruce Frogge said the church needs money upfront before repairs can be made.

“Just the remediation was half a million dollars,” he said. “We had flood insurance, but quickly capped on most of the buildings, so we had to look to FEMA’s other funding sources.”

As of late November, the church had applied for a FEMA grant to cover restoration efforts and was waiting for the agency to return the final scope of work so the church could put out for construction bids. Frogge said the scope of work will determine how much more funding will be needed to get The Centrum up and running. While church officials said they were unsure how long it would take to get the scope of work back or how much the remainder of the project will cost, they are hoping to go out for bids before 2020.

“We’re ready to go,” Frogge said. “We have everything in place once we have that scope of work.”

LOST ART

The same year The Centrum opened, Cypress Creek FACE was created in 1997 to host concerts and educational programs in the facility—which the nonprofit did for two decades.

“We had 41 scheduled events in the 2017 season, and we had only done one before Hurricane Harvey hit,” Decker said. “The Centrum wasn’t the only building that flooded, but it had a significant number of organizations that used it. ... So all of them were out looking for new spaces, and we were just another one.”

That season following Harvey, Decker said Cypress Creek FACE events were spread between eight venues; today, the organization uses four.

“While our longtime patrons have been able to find us at our new locations, our attendance has been down due, primarily, to [having to] move our Star-Lit concerts to Sunday afternoons,” Decker said. “We did reduce the number of performances slightly by discontinuing our family series. While our ticket sales have been down, they are beginning to improve.”

Likewise, Texas Master Chorale, which was founded by Bouley in 1985, also performed exclusively at The Centrum prior to Hurricane Harvey.

“The Centrum was a good home, but it didn’t have rehearsal facilities, so we could only use it for concerts,” Bouley said. “Now, we’re able to perform and rehearse at John Wesley United Methodist Church, which is nice.”

Symphony North of Houston—a community-based orchestra—is another organization that called the Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center home from 1989-94. However, secretary and assistant librarian Marie Rogoff said the organization has since moved several times in search of more affordable rent.

“Church and school calendars fill up quickly, well before our performing schedule is set for the following season,” Rogoff said. “Our rehearsals sometimes have last-minute location or time changes due to unexpected changes for events of our host venue.”

With no estimated reopening date in sight for The Centrum, arts leaders said their futures remain unclear.

FILLING A VOID

A couple of projects are underway that could fill the void in the local arts community left by The Centrum.

Lone Star College-University Park plans to add a Visual and Performing Arts Center to its campus by fall 2022. Keri Porter, LSC-UP’s chief strategist of innovation and research, said the 30,000- to- 40,000-square-foot facility will feature art, drama and music classrooms; a performance venue; a black box theater; and an art gallery.

The $21.67 million project was part of Lone Star College System’s $485 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2014. While the facility will primarily be used for educational purposes, Porter said it will also be open to local performing arts organizations. She added the college is working on a facilities use plan.

Additionally, Harris County Precinct 4 announced plans in April to open the George H.W. Bush Community Center, a 24,500-square-foot space formerly owned by the Cypress Creek Christian Church and Community Center, by early 2021. Upon completion, the project will cost approximately $4.5 million-$4.9 million.

While the space will not be a designated performance venue, Decker said upon opening the facility will host Cypress Creek FACE’s children’s series as well as its Klein Art Days program, a Klein ISD field trip program.

While these projects are anticipated to alleviate some of the challenges local organizations are facing, Decker said the idea of a community facility with performance, rehearsal and educational components and seating for 1,200 would be ideal for north Houston. However, she added the probability of getting a $20 million-$40 million project like that off the ground is slim.

“Can our community come up with that kind of money? I don’t know. I think we are still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and worrying if there will be a repeat,” Decker said.
By Hannah Zedaker

Editor, Spring/Klein & Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood

Hannah joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor of the Spring/Klein edition and later became the editor of both the Spring/Klein and Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood editions in June 2021. Hannah covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Hannah served as associate editor of The Houstonian, interned with Community Impact Newspaper and spent time writing for the Sam Houston State University College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication and The Huntsville Item.