Mayor clarifies Barter Theatre costs

By Tom Joyce -

Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe has presented a new set of figures showing that the city’s expense in bringing a Barter Theatre branch here would be much less than initially stated.

Rowe, in announcing the possible expansion of the entertainment operation based in Abingdon, Virginia, to Mount Airy, said during the weekend that the construction costs to the municipality for such a facility would exceed $12 million.

He added then that when historic tax credits were applied to the project planned in a building on the former Spencer’s industrial property downtown, a net expense of about $3.5 million would result. Such mill tax credits are available to support new uses of such sites while also preserving the architectural integrity of buildings previously used for textile manufacturing.

But the mayor has since reported, after double-checking the figures originally supplied based on his recollection of materials not on hand at the time, that initial construction costs to the city instead would be about $3.5 million.

Plans call for the municipality to obtain financing for that over a 20-year period, which would result in a total of $8.6 million for both building and interest expenses, he added Tuesday.

The effort to bring a Barter Theatre location to town, representing its first expansion outside Abingdon, has been under way by local officials since early 2017.

A tentative agreement recently was reached for that between the two parties, which Rowe has said is subject to community input at a public meeting this week on the Barter proposal. It is scheduled Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Mount Airy High School Auditorium.

“One-way street”

The mayor also provided other details about the Barter Theatre plan Tuesday, including fielding questions about the Virginia operation’s involvement.

“They are not making much of an investment themselves, other than to furnish the theatrical (component),” he said of the financial implications. “They are going to have an office here.”

In terms of funding the project, the municipality essentially will be on its own. “It is pretty much a one-way street,” the mayor added. “I think all of this will come out in our meeting that we’re supposed to have.”

Mount Airy already has committed to funding infrastructure improvements such as streets and utilities in the Spencer’s redevelopment area, where a four-star hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments are scheduled to be built.

Rowe said that work also will cover those improvements for Building Nine, where the Barter Theatre is planned, with no extra infrastructure cost involved with that component.

The main input from Barter Theatre’s point of view would seem to be lending its name to the Mount Airy branch, providing a major tourism drawing card especially for the new downtown hotel.

Designated as the official state theatre in Virginia, the Barter is the longest-running professional theatre company in the nation. It opened in 1933 during the Great Depression, when those who could not afford tickets to plays could gain admission by bartering food, livestock or other goods — thus giving the operation its name.

Barter Theatre stages major plays year-round through the presence of a professional resident company, which has helped launch the careers of numerous A-list movie actors.

Productions presented initially in Abingdon later would be shifted here, according to the mayor. “They will move the set down to Mount Airy.”

By Tom Joyce

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

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