On the night of July Fourth, Central Maui residents and motorists reported seeing a "strange glow" hovering over the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Was it a fireworks display? A UFO?
"We had people calling us, going 'what's up?' " grinned Art Vento, the center's executive vice president of operations. "Actually, we were running a test of the incandescent strip lighting in the pyramid."
Already a neighborhood landmark, the jade green "pyramid" caps a $12.8 million expansion project meant to boost the MACC's appeal as a concert and event venue. If all goes well, the pyramid's glow could prove a beacon for stage shows from near and far.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Art Vento of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center surveys progress on the Yokouchi Family Pavilion last week.
"Once we complete this pavilion, something that can fit into an arena should be able to fit here," Vento said. "And anything that comes to the Blaisdell should be able to come here."
That should be music to the ears of isle concertgoers who have watched arena-style acts bypass Maui because no venue here could accommodate them. The pyramid's steel-truss frame, 50-foot loft and hundreds of sound and lighting conduits should obviate that.
"This will give us a little shimmer, a little sexiness," Vento said.
"As you look at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, everything has been an evolution. It's not enough to build the same thing that worked in 1992. You have to evolve. If you don't evolve, you're dead."
- ART VENTO, MACC executive vice president of operations
When it opens in January, the pyramid-topped Yokouchi Family Pavilion will replace the MACC's outdoor stage and enclose the open-air Founder's Courtyard. That setup has hosted hundreds of memorable events over the years, but it was never meant to be permanent.
"As you look at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, everything has been an evolution," Vento said, using an area map to show how various center components have been reconfigured. "It's not enough to build the same thing that worked in 1992. You have to evolve. If you don't evolve, you're dead."
The latest evolution, he added, will mean "no wind, no rain and no huddling in the shadows on stormy nights" in the Founder's Court, now topped by a lofty glass roof. "You'll still be able to see the moon and stars, but the elements are not going to be an issue."
Vento said other features of the courtyard will remain as MACC patrons remember them. "The footprint is the same as before, the restrooms and service bars are in the same locations, and the trees and pavers will come back. It's going to be like you've been here the whole time, but it's brand new."
Stepping over cables and ducking under scaffolds, he pointed out where new facilities will go. The courtyard upgrade will include six built-in food and beverage bars, two granite-tiled restrooms, a restaurant-scale prep kitchen, and roll-down wooden louvers and fabric drops that can partition the floor space as needed.
A service elevator and grand staircase access a second skylit level boasting a 3,000-square-foot "gathering space" with its own food and beverage bars. As yet unnamed, this room has a balcony overlooking the courtyard and pyramid stage. Floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear offer a panorama of Kahului Harbor and Haleakala. "This floor can be a caf, a VIP area, a stand-alone rental space, or a site for events that used to be in the art gallery," Vento said.
Sweeping an arm over the new stage and pavilion, he added: "This is the ultimate in flexibility. It gives us new performance spaces and options. We could do some shows facing inwards, jazz or blues, say. Then the courtyard seats 500 to 600 and this balcony becomes VIP seating."
Although the covered pavilion has been penciled in since the 1990s, Vento said, it took a "leap of faith" to build it during a recession.
"It was bold move on the part of the board," he said. "This project has created 155 jobs and helped put Maui back to work, so there has been no better time to reinvest in the product. But there is no worse time to fund raise."