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Caution tape decorated the floorboards, hard-hatted waiters passed around trays of mini-quiche and a string duet played Mozart in the corner of the Avenue B restaurant at Spruce and Broad streets. This melding of the architectural and creative arts set the stage for a status report from outgoing Mayor Ed Rendell and other city officials on the Regional Performing Arts Center, scheduled to open in 2001 across the street from yesterday's presentation. The $255 million complex, which began construction a year ago, will include three performing arts spaces, classrooms and cafes in a five-story building topped with a glass dome. Rendell has touted the center as the centerpiece of the Avenue of the Arts, which he says will help revive Center City by boosting tourism and increasing Philadelphia's cultural profile. But although Rendell has pushed for the mega-complex for several years, the hefty price tag was a problem for the city -- and when construction officially kicked off last fall, the RPAC was $45 million short. Still, despite a few bumps, RPAC officials say the funding and construction plans for the massive undertaking are right on track. The local business and community leaders sipping vodka tonics in the restaurant last night could look out the window to the vast 600,000-square-foot construction site that will soon house the RPAC. "We are still building it on budget and we are still building it on schedule," RPAC Board of Directors Chairperson Willard Rouse said as he stood, flanked by computer screens showing the pictures of the future center. "We are absolutely dedicated to building it on budget," Rouse added. RPAC has raised 91 percent of the $255 million price tag -- exactly $232.1 million. The funding has come from the city and state governments, local corporations and foundations and individual donors. Rendell stepped on stage after Rouse and spoke emotionally on how the RPAC will help rejuvenate and revitalize Center City, a longtime goal of his administration. "This [is] going to be a beautiful outstanding legacy," he said. But after praising the progress of RPAC and discussing his love for Philadelphia, Rendell asked the audience for just a little more financial support for the project. "This building can do so much for us, we have to be sure we can give it adequate support," Rendell said, adding that he and his wife, U.S. Circuit Court Judge and RPAC Vice Chairperson Marjorie Rendell, have donated $50,000. Later in the program, RPAC President Stephanie Naidoff discussed the goals of the center, which will serve as a home to Philadelphia's seven performing arts groups and will also hold popular attractions and performances by world-class musicians. The attendance projection for the year of 2003 -- RPAC's first normalized year -- is 1.13 million visitors. But Naidoff was quick to point out that this project will do more than just raise the decibel level in Center City. "There is more here than music," she said. "There's momentum of a world-class enterprise." She noted that the center will be an economic benefit to the city, providing 3,000 new jobs and netting the city $153 million in added revenue. Additionally, Naidoff outlined the five-year economic forecast for the center, which she said will net a projected $17.4 million per year while spending $21.6 million annually. Naidoff said RPAC will have an annual fundraising goal of $4.5 million to make up the difference between the expenses and the revenue, but she added that the expense is similar to other performing arts centers across the country. "This forecast has been based on every nuance of information," she said. Architect Rafael Vinoly also spoke at the event. His ambitious, unusual design for the complex -- which will include a 2,500-seat orchestra hall and a 650-seat recital hall with the glass dome curving 150 feet high above street level -- drew praise from those in attendance last night. "I think that [it] has been designed to lift up the pride of the city," Vinoly said.

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