10/05/06 — Investing in the city's history

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Investing in the city's history

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 5, 2006 1:53 PM

When Jeff Darwin walked through the second floor of a 100-year-old building on the corner of Walnut and John streets, he knew it was time to invest again in downtown Goldsboro.

Hundreds of hours of restoration and renovation later, he has found occupants for all of the building's 16 suites -- photographers, watercolorists, even a potter.

Retired art teacher and acrylic and oil painter Shirley Wells is one of them.

"I've been waiting to do something like this my whole life," she said.

Art Studio 102 will open its doors to the public Friday from 5 to 9, marking the completion of another Darwin success story and the beginning of new careers.

Residents are encouraged to drop by to look at the artists' products -- and enjoy food, refreshments and live music at the same time, Darwin said.

"I've invested in a lot downtown," Darwin said. "But everyone of them is paying off. I think the main reason I invest down here is because you only have one downtown. Anybody can build a mall or strip mall, but this place has history."

A history that is enriched with unique places like the studio, Mrs. Wells said.

"It really attracts tourists, a place like this," she said. "And for small towns like us, that's where a lot of the money comes from. I can feel Goldsboro starting to grow. I think it's going to happen."

Like other historic properties in the downtown area, Darwin's building hasn't been used for decades -- 40 years to be exact, his wife, Cindy, said.

So, investors like Darwin put in the time and money, hoping to help the city realize its potential, he said.

"Goldsboro has got whatever potential people are willing to put into it," Darwin said. "This studio isn't going to make Goldsboro a success overnight, but this downtown wasn't built in a year. It's just like anything else, if you put your mind to it, and you're ready to work, you can have success."

Nelda Sharkey used to teach at Southern and Eastern Wayne high schools.

Now she dabbles in photography and said she hopes to have some success of her own working out of the building on the corner John and Walnut.

"If people know you're open during their lunchtime, hopefully they'll just wander through," she said. "I thought even I don't make a lot of money, it will be great."

Darwin said certain features make the building perfect for professionals like Mrs. Sharkey -- as if it were meant to be the home of studio space all along.

"I think what caught the eyes of the artists was the huge windows and the amount of natural light that gets in," he said. "Particularly for those who want to do onsite art and displaying. And look at the view. You can really sense that all that history is right down there."

Maybe that's why the building's 16 suites were filled months before the final stages of the project were complete, he added.

Darwin said he hopes the studio will prove to be an appreciated amenity downtown. Furthermore, he believes it might silence some critics of restoration efforts in the area.

"Unless you try something like this, you'll never know," he said. "Now, I'm not saying that any kind of business can work downtown. But what I will say is that the majority of people could make a go of it if they have good products and they are willing to stick it out."

And even if the artists fail to make the kind of money they hope to, Mrs. Wells said having her business centrally located has other perks, too.

Just the other day, she was walking the halls and ran into a familiar face.

"It was one of my students," she said. "He said, 'Are you Mrs. Wells?" And then I said, "Are you one of mine? He told me, 'you're the reason I went to art school.' I just cried. It makes me feel so good."