Officials of the Surry Arts Council are hoping a proposed performing arts center in Mount Airy won’t serve to bring the curtain down on their organization.
A new performing arts/business center is one of three projects planned for the former Spencer’s industrial property downtown, for which an option/incentive agreement was approved by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners on July 21. These represent a total investment of $28.5 million.
The other two projects for the site now owned by the city government are an 80-room boutique hotel and banquet hall and an 80-unit market-rate apartment complex.
But a degree of mystery surrounds the third element, the performing arts center, which a Charlotte attorney aiding Mount Airy with the Spencer’s redevelopment has said would include a “mixed-used regional dinner theater” along with an unspecified business component.
And that is causing concerns for the Surry Arts Council about the effect on its programs, which include community theater, musical and other performances.
“There are questions about the impact on the Surry Arts Council, since we also are a performing arts venue,” council Executive Director Tanya Jones said Wednesday.
“But we are very supportive of the hotel, which has been clearly defined, and the residential (component), which has been clearly defined,” Jones added.
The performing arts/business center, however, has been outlined only in general terms, having just been added to the redevelopment mix this month in terms of a public disclosure about that facility.
This revelation prompted officials of the Surry Arts Council to attend the July 21 meeting of the city commissioners when the option/incentive agreement was approved to seek answers.
Teresa Lewis, a local business owner who serves as treasurer for the council’s board of directors, spoke during a public forum portion of the meeting, inquiring about the nature of the new center. Lewis said she was there “just to make sure that the Surry Arts Council will be a complement to such a center.”
However, vague reassurances were about all that Lewis and Jones, who also attended the meeting, came away with, prompting Jones to say Wednesday that “questions” remain.
Tom Webb, a local businessman who is spearheading the performing arts/business center, was at the July 21 meeting and had an opportunity to elaborate on the plans for it, but did not speak.
Efforts to contact Webb for further details have been unsuccessful.
During the recent meeting, city officials attempted to allay fears about possible threats to the Surry Arts Council, a longtime local organization that sponsors Mayberry Days in addition to other activities.
“There will be some kind of entertainment complex there,” Mayor David Rowe said of a 1.33-acre site located to the rear of Spencer’s buildings fronting Willow Street.
“It has not been our intent to have an effect on the arts council,” he said of the redevelopment plans overall. “That’s been at the top of the list of the things about which we are concerned.”
Rowe said the idea behind the performance center is providing a means to attract people to stay at the hotel. “It’s been kind of a linchpin for the whole process.”
Commissioner Shirley Brinkley said the proposed performing arts facility represents an opportunity to attract different types of people to town — “not because of one venue, but two venues.”
Brinkley indicated that the center now envisioned will simply be adding to existing facilities such as Blackmon Amphitheater, an outdoor site where the Surry Arts Council stages beach music and other concerts.
“It gives us one more thing to draw people to this town,” said Brinkley, who cited the need for a hotel downtown to provide lodging within walking distance of winery and other night-life attractions.
“I can’t imagine anyone losing anything from this.”
Yet at last report, Jones was still seeking answers about the proposed performing arts center in a desire to work with, rather than against, that endeavor.
“We would very much like to be in partnership with it, rather than winding up as a victim.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.