A vote regarding a “production” greeted by enthusiastic audiences of both rave reviewers and harsh critics this winter — a proposed Barter Theatre in Mount Airy — is scheduled to come Thursday afternoon.
It has been almost two weeks since the city Board of Commissioners last discussed the proposal publicly, which calls for a new 500-seat theatre on former Spencer’s industrial property along with a boutique hotel/banquet center and upscale apartments.
This was during the board’s last meeting on Feb. 15, when it was expected to vote on the plan requiring a significant investment of city funding to both develop and help operate the new theatre staging professional productions. It would represent the first-ever expansion of the Barter outside its home base of Abingdon, Virginia, since being founded in 1933.
However, the commissioners voted unanimously on Feb. 15 to delay the decision until their next meeting this Thursday at 2 p.m. It will be held in council chambers of the Municipal Building.
Proposed pact tweaked
Officials have been busy in recent days assembling final documents to allow the five city commissioners to make an informed decision Thursday.
This has included a proposal for cooperation between Mount Airy and Surry County government on the entire Spencer’s Redevelopment Project, which was approved unanimously by the city commissioners on Feb. 15. That vote called for the proposal to be submitted to the county commissioners last Friday.
The city board further decided on Feb. 15, in a 3-2 vote, to authorize the hiring of an independent financial adviser to evaluate all funding projections related to the Barter project and offer an opinion on those by Monday of this week. Commissioners Shirley Brinkley, Dean Brown and Steve Yokeley voted in favor of that, with the board’s Jim Armbrister and Jon Cawley dissenting.
Also in recent days, Mount Airy and Barter Foundation representatives have been working to tweak a draft operating agreement between the two sides ahead of Thursday afternoon’s meeting. This included discussion during a lengthy conference call last Friday.
• Based on information earlier presented, constructing the theatre would cost about $13.5 million, which would be reduced to an estimated $3.6 million after state historic mill renovation credits, federal historic property renovation tax credits and New Market Tax Credits are applied. Recently injected wording calls for that facility to be “state of the art” with new sound system and lighting components.
• Another $5 million or so is eyed for the interest on bond financing that would be utilized and fees.
• The city government also would offset operational costs of the new facility in its initial five years of operation with annual subsidies, to range from an eventual low of $100,000 to a high of $600,000. Added in recent days in the draft agreement is a requirement for the municipality to pay an annual operating contribution of $100,000 for 15 years.
• Local officials have planned to spend $4.5 million on infrastructure costs for Spencer’s property, for lighting, parking lot, street and other improvements, for which a $722,500 Golden Leaf Foundation grant has been awarded. The infrastructure improvements will cover not only the Building Nine site for the proposed theatre but other parcels where the four-star hotel/banquet center and apartments are envisioned.
Figured into the cost outlook is a plan by Barter officials, in conjunction with the city government, to raise $2 million for the project through a private fundraising campaign.
The proposal has called for Mount Airy to borrow about $7 million over 20 years through bond financing, although Surrey Bank and Trust has submitted an alternate plan for 40 years through a USDA community facilities loan.
Estimates have called for property taxes to rise from the present rate of 48 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 58 cents and as high as 70 cents, according to at least one source.
Most-recent revenue projections for funding the Barter expansion are based on a 1-percent food and beverage tax being imposed in Mount Airy which would generate at least $400,000 annually. But levying that tax depends on receiving authority from state legislators.
Some money also is to come from the city’s available fund balance, or reserves, to help fund the project, documents show.
Barter Theatre would stage all productions, a minimum of 250 shows per year. The first anticipated performance is in the summer of 2020.
Additional new language inserted into the proposal refers to special “Barter Days” in which local residents could bring items for local food banks in exchange for admission to plays; pay-what-you-can performances allowing residents to see the first show of every production for an amount the resident can afford (a minimum payment of $1); and other discounts.
City Attorney Hugh Campbell explained that the working draft has been submitted to the city commissioners and is subject to further changes and final approval by them and the governing board of the Barter Foundation.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.