The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, as seen from the Marmon Mok Architecture offices on the 16th floor of 700 N. St. Mary’s St. Photo by Annette Crawford.

Amid the hard hats, construction dust, and drone of equipment at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, there is an elegance that cannot be denied.

With less than 11 weeks until the grand opening, the Tobin Center is a flurry of activity as every detail is checked and checked again. Not one light, seat, door, cable or floorboard – nothing – can be overlooked as the Tobin Center readies for its grand introduction to San Antonio and the world beyond.

On June 19, the Urban Land Institute offered members and sponsors a behind-the-scenes tour. It was a choice opportunity to witness how far the project has come and what still lies ahead.

Representatives from several of the major players in the Tobin Center’s design and construction were on hand to speak about their roles in the project and to lead tours. Among them were Linbeck, along with Zachry Corporation the construction partners, and associate architect Marmon Mok. The prime architect is LMN out of Seattle.

Mary Bartlett, project manager for Marmon Mok Architecture, said there were three charges that center leadership gave the architects at the start of the project:

  1. Create a world-class performing arts center in terms of acoustics and operations.
  2. Respect the historic building, preserving as much of it as possible, capturing the spirit of San Antonio in the design
  3. Create a new portal to the Riverwalk with outdoor space.

George Vavrek, executive vice president at Linbeck, spoke enthusiastically about the project.

“We know when the audience gets in there, they’re just going to love it,” he said, noting in particular the “wow factor” of the 1,750-seat H-E-B Performance Hall. “The musicians will be tuned up to a whole new level.”

The world-class acoustics can be tuned to fit performances, meaning you can hear the resonance as a bow draws across a violin, but not the thud as a ballerina’s feet hit the floor.

The main hall will be the new home of the San Antonio Symphony, Opera San Antonio, and Ballet San Antonio. Artists’ renderings of this space have managed to capture the venue’s sheer expanse and versatility. The entire main floor is electronic, and can be reconfigured in a matter of 22 minutes. The plush seats can be flipped, row by row, offering the options of a general admission flat floor or tables set with banquet or cabaret-style seating.

In addition to the H-E-B Performance Hall, there are two other main performance venues – the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater and the River Walk Plaza.

Like the performance hall, the studio theater is all about versatility. It can be easily configured to host a range of performances, and can seat as many as 250 guests. It’s meant for more intimate performances, and can also be used for presentations, receptions and parties.

Set-ups range from auditorium-style seating to small in-the-round performances, and everything in between. The space can be extended by opening a wall that faces the River Walk Plaza, complete with outdoor access. Tobin resident companies, along with others preparing for performances, can use the space for rehearsals.

The River Walk Plaza is a new treasure that is pure San Antonio. Before the construction started, a large stone wall ran the entire length of the property line that faced the San Antonio River. Anyone who walked by or rode by on a river barge couldn’t see anything beyond the wall. There was no inkling of what lay beyond it. People standing on street level had the opposite dilemma – “River? What river?”

The dynamic exterior of the Tobin Center has now been enhanced by this third event space that can seat 600. A 30-foot video wall on the exterior of the building can show audiences what’s going on inside or be used for movie nights; there are endless possibilities.

The site will feature a river taxi stop near a Carlos Cortes cement sculpture of trees. And while the plaza and the area with the video wall can be fenced off for special events, the rest of this new expanse will be open to the public.

A special feature of this site will be a memorial that pays honor to San Antonio’s Medal of Honor recipients. Engraved columns are lined up like sentries, and a gently sloping walk allows visitors to read individual’s histories as they make their way down to the Riverwalk. The opening ceremony for this portion of the Tobin Center is set for July 3.

While the River Walk Plaza is part of the Tobin Center project, the River Walk Portal and Medal of Honor Memorial are one of two separately funded projects that Marmon Mok is designing as the prime architect.

The other project is the Tobin Center Garage. It wasn’t part of the original contract, but evolved as the project developed. It’s scheduled for completion in summer of 2015.

A venue of this magnitude deserves more than one opening night, and in the case of the Tobin Center, the celebration begins Sept. 4 and will run through Oct. 16 with the first night of Ballet San Antonio’s “Dracula.”

According to Christopher Novosad, senior marketing manager for the Tobin Center, a schedule of events will be announced as activities are finalized.

As the clock ticks down to opening day and the construction dust is swept away, the Tobin Center promises to be more than a performing arts center. It will transform how people think of the arts, and likely, how we view our own city and how the world views San Antonio.

Related stories:

Constructing Success: Tobin Center Announces Inaugural Season

YPs & the Arts: The Tobin Center “Ghost Light Society”

Ballet San Antonio Anticipates Life in the Tobin

Inside and Outside, Tobin Center Aims to Bring Performing Arts to the Whole City

San Antonio Symphony Celebrates 75th Anniversary

Annette Crawford is an Air Force veteran and has spent more than 30 years as a writer, editor, and public affairs officer. She is the house photographer at Sam’s Burger Joint & Music Hall.