The Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts was part of the reason Heather Garner moved back to New Albany.

She and her husband, John, had lived in the city for about six years before they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, for his job, said Garner, executive director of the New Albany Symphony Orchestra. 

When they decided to return to central Ohio, Garner said, she knew she wanted to contribute in some way to the McCoy and realized the center was going to need an orchestra. In addition to standing alone, it could accompany Broadway shows, guest artists and ballet, she thought.

"The orchestra is always kind of the heartbeat of a lot of the performing arts," she said.

The symphony orchestra's first season was in 2008 and it has expanded to more than 100 members, including professional musicians, community members and students, Garner said.

"I don't think it ever would have happened without the building of the McCoy," she said.

As the McCoy reached its 10th anniversary, community leaders have credited it with bringing a great deal to New Albany -- the symphony orchestra, for starters, along with arts-education programs for New Albany-Plain Local School District students and such events as concerts, lectures and panels that have drawn audiences from the city and beyond.

And as the McCoy moves into its next decade, city leaders said they see possibilities for expanded programs and even holding festivals at the arts center and an amphitheater that will be built nearby.

Past and present

The McCoy opened in the winter of 2008 at 100 W. Dublin-Granville Road in New Albany.

Its first event was a gala featuring Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin on Feb. 23, 2008, according to Rolanda Copley, a spokeswoman for the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts, better known by its acronym of CAPA, which manages the facility.

The first public event was a March 15, 2008, concert with Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, she said.

Since then, dozens of diverse events have been held there.

Recent attractions have included author and MSNBC host Chris Matthews' April 17 appearance for the Jefferson Series, an annual lectureship slate founded in 2014 and organized by the New Albany Community Foundation to promote lifelong learning in the community, and New Albany High School's production of "Julius Caesar," which will conclude its two-weekend run Sunday, April 29.

Examples of upcoming events, which are listed at mccoycenter.org, is the symphony orchestra's celebration of its 10th anniversary season with a concert featuring recording artist Michael Feinstein on May 6 and the Jefferson Series presentation by author and journalist Elizabeth Vargas on May 9.

Group effort

The McCoy had its roots in a partnership.

The city and school district each spent $5 million toward its construction, and Plain Township spent $3 million, according to the original agreement struck in 2005.

The New Albany Community Foundation provided $2.5 million toward construction and associated costs, but the building's operating agreement is among the township, city and school district, said foundation president Craig Mohre.

The New Albany Co. donated $1.5 million in land for the project, he said.

"When you collaborate, really wonderful things are possible," Mohre said.

The partnership with the city, township and school district has been effective, said Plain Township trustee Dave Ferguson, and programs that have evolved over the years, such as the foundation's Jefferson Series, have been successful.

When the school district began planning an auditorium on its campus, city leaders realized that an opportunity existed to bring other events, performers and speakers to the community with a common facility, said New Albany City Manager Joe Stefanov.

The McCoy was an outgrowth of city leaders' original vision of pursuing lifelong learning, Stefanov said.

It has been a benefit for central Ohio, too, he said.

"The impact of this goes well beyond the boundaries of New Albany," Stefanov said.

Although McCoy patrons initially came from New Albany, as word spread about the center, audience members began coming from Westerville, Upper Arlington, Bexley and all over the region, said Ted DeDee, who served as the McCoy's executive director from 2007 to 2012.

The center created a sense of pride in the community, he said, and a way to bring the arts to individuals who were used to travelling downtown or to New York or Chicago to see shows, DeDee said.

"The McCoy was an additional building block to a sense of community," he said.

CAPA took over management of the McCoy on July 1, 2013, according to Copley.

The organization has tracked season attendance figures since 2013-14 -- and the 2017-18 season is not complete -- but the McCoy averages 24,000 in attendance for events each year, she said.

Educational asset

The McCoy's most valuable function is its role for students, said McCoy board chairman Tom Hill. The venue provides an excellent opportunity for students to become interested in the arts at an early age, he said.

In fact, the district's centralized campus is right next door.

The McCoy is used more than 300 days a year, and about 70 percent of the programs are connected to the schools, said Superintendent Michael Sawyers. Students have access to impactful events and opportunities, such as panels led by Jefferson Series speakers, he said.

The school district is in talks with the McCoy board of directors about expanding programs for students, Sawyers said.

Film education is one of those areas because of the 4K projector and digital sound system installed at the McCoy in 2015, he said.

The projector and sound system were purchased with a donation from Sara and Rick Mershad, Mohre said.

Future opportunities

Although the community foundation will continue to hold the Jefferson Series lectures, Mohre said, he sees potential for more programs, such as continuing-education classes and residencies for artists or lecturers.

The addition of the amphitheater, just west of the McCoy in a field owned by the school district, would allow for music, film or Shakespeare festivals in the area, with the ability to schedule events simultaneously at the amphitheater and inside the McCoy's main and black-box theaters, Mohre said.

The foundation has raised $4.7 million in hard and soft commitments for the amphitheater, Mohre said, and the anticipated construction cost is $5.5 to $6.5 million.

"My hope is that we can break ground on the amphitheater within the next 12 months," he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah

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