07/03/11 — Vote to affect museum, Arts Council, downtown

View Archive

Vote to affect museum, Arts Council, downtown

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 3, 2011 1:50 AM

Full Size


The Annie Dove Handley building at the corner of John and Walnut streets could be the new Arts Council home.

With the Goldsboro City Council poised to vote on buying the Arts Council of Wayne County's East Ash Street building, the decision is likely to have to impact beyond a potential Air Force museum. It could also have implications for the future of the Arts Council, as well as the shape of downtown.

As a member of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp.'s board of directors, Arts Council of Wayne County Executive Director Sarah Merritt had often sat through meetings with DGDC Director Julie Thompson discussing ways to bring investment and excitement to Goldsboro's growing municipal service district.

So when the Arts Council began shopping its Ash Street building around and discussing a relocation in late 2010, Ms. Thompson naturally made a pitch for the group to come downtown, but wasn't holding her breath.

After all, the DGDC had been unsuccessful 10 years earlier persuading the group to come downtown when the Arts Council purchased its 2406 E. Ash Street facility from Centura Bank because of the amount of space it offered for projects and programs.

Now, however, that large space is the reason why the Arts Council has placed the building on the market -- the non-profit group can no longer afford the investment the 14,000-square-foot facility requires.

And in looking for a new home, the Arts Council identified the Annie Dove Handley building at the corner of John and Walnut streets as a potential match.

"We had our eye on a couple of places, but that was the one that seemed to fit," Mrs. Merritt said. "We wanted a facility with a more manageable size. We've been looking downtown from the beginning. A majority of arts councils are located in downtown areas."

But estimates on renovating those downtown locations were going to carry heavy price tags -- a big burden for the non-profit arts center.

That's when the state's Department of Commerce announced it would be offering grants to member institutions with ideas on how to revitalize their downtown areas through its Main Street Solutions Fund.

Ms. Thompson has called the timing of that announcement "perfect."

After a discussion with Mrs. Merritt over coffee during the Christmas holidays, the plans to apply for the grant, with the Arts Council as the lead for the proposal, took form.

By April 26, Ms. Thompson had gotten word that their proposal, "Arts Downtown," had received a grant in the full amount of their request, $200,000, to help prepare the Annie Dove Handley building for its prospective tenants.

After also being awarded one of DGDC's business incentive grants, valued at $400 per month for 12 months, all signs indicated that the move downtown was the right one for Mrs. Merritt and the Arts Council.

There is still, however, the matter of the Arts Council selling its current building, which the city of Goldsboro has been eyeing as a prospective Air Force museum since discussions with the Arts Council began in late 2010.

A measure to be voted on at Tuesday's City Council meeting would authorize the purchase of the Arts Council building for $475,000. A $25,000 deposit has already been transferred from the city's occupancy tax fund to the Arts Council as a non-refundable down payment on the building.

Mrs. Merritt said she and her board of directors are optimistic that the purchase will be approved, and plan to move into their downtown location at the end of July. But she has said the move would be contingent upon the city's purchase of the East Ash Street building.

Ms. Thompson said, because the grant, described by Mrs. Merritt as the "icing on the cake" of the Arts Council's downtown move, is reimbursement-based, there would be no penalty if the deal didn't go through, and that because it is valid for three years, the Arts Council could alter the plan if something held up their move, though any changes would need to be approved by the Department of Commerce.

"The move downtown is a good thing for us," Mrs. Merritt said, adding that the uptown Air Force museum would make the deal even better for the community. "The idea of having another cultural institution in our county is another economic benefit. It's something that can attract more visitors and residents. It's a win-win situation and we feel good about the Arts Council facility being used for something that's cultural and educational."

And despite the City Council's inclinations to promote the downtown area, Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen said the Arts Council's decision to move downtown, though riding on the city's actions, has not factored in to the council's selection of the Ash Street building for its Air Force museum location, despite past discussions focusing such efforts elsewhere.

"Obviously if the Arts Council was not going to move, then the building wouldn't have been available," he said. "It's a great added benefit to both the Arts Council and the downtown, but I don't think it had anything to do with it. The Arts Council could have just as easily said 'We're going to Berkeley Boulevard' and we would have still pushed for the building."

All things considered, however, Allen said he's "extremely excited" that the Arts Council is looking to come downtown.

But no one, perhaps, is looking more forward to the move downtown than Ms. Thompson.

"I didn't think we'd ever have the opportunity to recruit them again," Ms. Thompson said, adding that in 2000 when the Arts Council's building purchase at the corner of Spence and Ash went through, she thought the organization would be there for good.

Now, though, she said businesses, such as A New You Nutrition, have already chosen downtown locations near the Arts Council's future home in anticipation of the move, and that the more than 15,000 visitors to the arts center each year would be a huge lift for the area socially, culturally and economically.

Mrs. Merritt said the Arts Council offices and studios would be on the second floor of their new downtown facility, while renovations on the first floor would prevent that space from being utilized immediately. Installing an elevator and making the building handicap-accessible will take priority among the organization's initial renovations.