Seeds of the idea that would grow into the Robert L. and Elizabeth S. Cole Auditorium Center were planted in the early 1990s by farsighted community leaders who recognized the need for such a modern facility. While early discussions centered on questions of location and configuration, the primary challenge at every turn was how to finance construction.
Planning and financing began to come together in November 1993 after the voters of North Carolina approved a bond issue for community colleges. When Richmond Community College was allotted $2,500,000 from the bond proceeds to build an auditorium, the College’s Board of Trustees saw the opportunity to use this as seed money to help finance a larger, more comprehensive auditorium complex that could serve community, as well as college needs
The next challenge was to raise the additional funds required for a larger building. At this point, The Cole Foundation pledged a sizable naming grant, eventually totaling $2,000,000, while the RCC Foundation agreed to undertake a broad-based fund raising campaign. Known as the Community Partnership Campaign, the RCC Foundation’s efforts began in July 1994. By July 1997, the job was complete when the Community Partnership Campaign met its $5,000,000 goal
In the meantime, the architectural firm of Yates-Chreitzberg in Concord, North Carolina, aided by Peter George of New York, a theater architect, was engaged to complete design work for what would become a 37,000 square-foot building containing a 976 seat auditorium with a spacious lobby and a community center wing. The general construction contract was awarded to Sigma Construction Inc., of Fayetteville, North Carolina in August 1997 and work began in November 1997.
The Community Partnership Campaign truly was a community effort. The Campaign provided over 63% of the total cost of $8,000,000.
A dream turned into reality, the Robert L. and Elizabeth S. Cole Auditorium and Community Center was completed in October, 1999. Celebrating the success and in tribute to the many wonderful donors that made it all possible, a gala opening and dedication was held on October 29, 1999. Immediately following the gala, the inaugural performance for the new auditorium opened the DeWitt Series of the Performing Arts 2000 Season for the Robert L. and Elizabeth S. Cole Auditorium with the Broadway musical “Hello Dolly”.