As Mount Airy officials continue to ponder a proposed Barter Theatre expansion locally, a related concern has been raised by a developer planning a hotel nearby — who says it won’t be “viable” without the theater.
That issue was addressed during a community meeting on the Barter project last Thursday night by Dana Bryson. She is the owner of K2 Hotels and Services, but is best known as a partner in a Winston-Salem development group that owns and operates Brookstown Inn in Winston-Salem and The Village Inn Event Center in Clemmons.
Bryson was among multiple individuals making special presentations Thursday night concerning the implications of the possible Barter Theatre expansion on their respective plans or operations, who also included a Surry Arts Council official.
The 500-seat theatre is envisioned for a site in the former Spencer’s industrial complex now owned and being redeveloped by the city government. A four-star hotel/banquet center is planned nearby by Bryson’s firm, to include 90 guest rooms and a grand ballroom seating 350, while a third project involves a 67-unit upscale apartment complex with a Phase II option for another 53.
That interrelationship was focused on Thursday night by Bryson, who said the projects collectively have been part of an overall plan by the city for a growing visitation market in the area, including arts and other amenities.
A key consideration from the hotel’s standpoint has involved the idea that a performing arts component — ultimately the expansion by the Barter, a Virginia-based professional theatre organization with a regional presence — would drive demand for lodging there.
Supply and demand
Bryson — pointing out that Friday (Feb. 16) marked the three-year anniversary of her introduction to the Spencer’s redevelopment — explained that the matter boils down to the law of supply and demand.
Even with its present slate of tourism offerings, including attractions for “Andy Griffith Show” fans, Mount Airy is experiencing a decline in overnight stays among existing lodging establishments, according to Bryson.
“Mount Airy really needs (an additional) economic generator if you want the tourism market to sustain.”
Increasing the supply of rooms does not make sense, she added, unless the demand also is enlarged, referring to the extra traffic that would be generated by Barter Theatre.
However, the cost of the theatre project for city government has concerned many in the community, although the Barter plan also has received much public support.
While the private developers would spend their money for the $15 million hotel project and the $11.5 million apartment component, the Barter effort largely would depend on public funding.
This includes the $3.6 million expense of building the theatre, a net cost expected after federal and state tax credits are applied to a grand total of more than $13 million; another $5 million or so for the interest on bond financing that would be utilized and fees; and operational costs of the new facility in its initial years of operation, or annual subsidies, to range from a low of $100,000 to a high of $600,000.
Officials have said that meeting those financial obligations would require a hefty increase in the city’s property tax rate.
The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners has delayed indefinitely a vote on a proposed contract with the Barter Foundation which would put the wheels in motion.
Not giving up “yet”
Bryson was asked by an audience member, during a question-and-answer session after her presentation Thursday night, if the development of the new hotel was dependent on the Barter project reaching fruition.
“That’s a good question,” she responded.
Adding rooms with no extra demand for them “is just not viable,” Bryson said.
“I’m not ready to give up yet,” she said, but demand is an issue.
Bryson also made reference to how having another economic driver in town such as Barter Theatre might impact supply and demand for performing arts events now almost exclusively controlled by the Surry Arts Council (SAC), a longtime local agency.
“I don’t think adding a demand generator is going to take away from existing activities,” she said. Bryson mentioned that future tourism and lodging packages would include Surry Arts Council events and other local businesses besides the hotel.
Surry Arts Executive Director Tanya Jones later took a swipe at the hotel project during a presentation on how the Barter plan would affect her organization. Among other comments, Jones said city officials had overlooked the council in Barter-related discussions and weren’t treating it fairly in facility funding considerations compared to what they’re willing to do for the outside entity.
The Surry Arts Council official also reacted to Bryson’s comment about the need for a demand driver for her hotel.
Jones said she guessed that owners of other hotels in town also would be happy “if the city built a room generator next to them,” a remark that drew laughter from some audience members.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.