A $100 million Salisbury University performing arts center may be on the horizon for downtown Salisbury, pending approval by the Wicomico County Council. SU officials publicly announced the proposal during a presentation at the council’s May 7 meeting.

Expected to open within four to five years, the new center would feature an auditorium with seating for up to 1,000, making it the second largest indoor performance space in the county, after the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. Other planned amenities include a music and theatre space with seating for up to 450, a convertible dance studio, scenic and costume design facilities, and dressing rooms, as well as classroom and rehearsal space. 

A recent production of “Hairspray” by SU’s Bobbi Biron Theatre Program. A new performing arts center in Downtown Salisbury would expand SU programming and attract professional productions from national and international touring acts.

The building will have a significant annual economic impact on the region, beginning with its construction. The facility also could mean new opportunities for area businesses, as expanded SU cultural programming and the possibility of professional productions from national and international touring acts are expected to draw more customers to downtown Salisbury. 

“SU’s music, theatre and dance ensembles are renowned throughout Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula,” said Dr. Maarten Pereboom, dean of the University’s Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts. “While we enjoy inviting the community to our performances on campus, it’s exciting to know that we may have an even bigger and better venue to showcase the talents of our students, our faculty and our community partners in a facility that would place us on par with our peers throughout the region. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.” 

The center would expand SU’s presence in downtown Salisbury, which also includes the SU Downtown campus in addition to the new Museum of Eastern Shore Culture, scheduled to open later this year. The project is contingent upon an agreement that would allow SU to take possession of the building currently housing the Wicomico Public Library’s Paul S. Sarbanes Branch at the intersection of South Division and West Market streets. In return, SU would lease its building at 909 S. Schumaker Dr., to the county for the library’s relocation. Cost would be $1 per year over 30 years (renewable every 10 years, per Maryland laws governing the lease of state-owned property). 

The proposal would require the county to make approximately $8 million in renovations to the Schumaker Drive property — including a new HVAC system — with the library being eligible to request up to 84 percent of that cost to be covered through the Maryland State Library Agency’s Capital Grants Program. 

Pending approval of the agreement, demolition of the current library building would take place in 2026, thanks to a grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. The Wicomico County Library would continue to maintain services downtown at a smaller branch following the relocation of the Sarbanes branch at that time. 

“When estimates to renovate or replace our current building, which is nearing the end of its useful life, ranged from $15 million to $30 million, we knew we needed to find a better option for our community,” said Seth Hershberger, Wicomico Public Library director. “Learning that the Schumaker Drive building was potentially available, we worked with the Greater Salisbury Committee to bring this proposal to SU.” 

The proposed move would transform the library into one of the most picturesque in Maryland at an estimated cost of $1.2 million to the county while also reopening the building and surrounding 10-acre grounds to the public.