Will Barter Theatre raise curtain here?

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Mount Airy officials are paying a visit to Abingdon, Virginia, today as part of an effort that could lead to Abingdon’s historic Barter Theatre branching out to this city, according to Mayor David Rowe.

Rowe said a possible deal to bring that about is in the works, which is coinciding with plans to redevelop the former Spencer’s industrial site in downtown Mount Airy.

So far, those plans have included an 80-room boutique hotel coupled with a banquet hall, an 80-unit market-rate apartment complex and an entertainment component — which has been described only as “a mixed-used regional dinner theater.” The three represent a total investment of $28.5 million.

Rowe said there is a potential for the theater component to be a “driver” for the hotel segment in terms of offering another attraction for tourists to spend the night in town.

But the mayor added Monday that for the Barter Theatre to be included in this mix, “a lot of things” would need to happen.

“I don’t want to hold my breath,” Rowe said.

A step in that direction is being taken today, a “familiarization trip” to the Barter Theater by the mayor and members of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.

“I think the whole board was invited,” the mayor said, although all five commissioners were not expected to take part, including Shirley Brinkley. Also included in today’s visit to Abingdon — a Southwest Virginia town of about 8,200 residents — are members of the Mount Airy Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and municipal staff members.

The Barter Theatre has been in operation since 1933, and stages major plays year-round through the presence of a professional resident company.

It has helped launch the careers of actors such as Gregory Peck, Kevin Spacey, Ernest Borgnine and others.

The Barter presently has two locations in Abingdon’s historic district, a main theatre with 505 seats and Barter Stage II, with 167 seats.

Developer donating transportation

The itinerary for today’s trip — which was not announced publicly until last Friday — called for leaving Mount Airy at 9 a.m., arriving at the Barter Theatre at 11 a.m. and engaging in meet-and-greet sessions with officials there until 3 p.m.

Local representatives are to return to town late this afternoon.

“To my knowledge, there will not be any cost to the city for this trip,” City Manager Barbara Jones disclosed Monday. “Developer Dana Bryson is providing a van and has invited members of the TDA, city board and staff to go along.”

Bryson is a partner in a Winston-Salem development group that is seeking to launch the hotel/banquet center project in Mount Airy. That group owns and operates facilities including Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem and The Village Inn Event Center in Clemmons.

Since early on, an entertainment complex has been part of the plans for the former Spencer’s property, which the municipality bought in 2014.

Originally, local businessman Fred Jones was spearheading efforts for a regional venue offering professional play productions and other activities, but withdrew his participation.

Later, Tom Webb, another local businessman, came on board to pursue a project for a performing arts/business center on a 1.33-acre site located to the rear of Spencer’s buildings that front Willow Street.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce


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