Barter appeal still waiting in wings

By Tom Joyce -
Yokeley -

Plans are still up in the air for a return visit to Raleigh by Mount Airy officials seeking to make another pitch for the Barter Theatre project, but one city councilman says it must occur soon.

“I think it’s very urgent,” Commissioner Steve Yokeley said Friday of the need to readdress the plan with a subcommittee of the North Carolina Local Government Commission (LGC) as soon as possible. The Local Government Commission is an oversight and debt-management agency that must approve financing arrangements of communities planning such major projects using bonds or loans.

The LGC’s subcommittee of three financial analysts rejected plans for an expansion of the Abingdon, Virginia-based Barter Theatre in Mount Airy during a required application screening on March 22. It was held to determine whether the matter would advance to the full commission.

Those analysts deemed the project too risky for the city government, noting its plans for borrowing about $7 million to develop the 500-seat theater on former industrial property owned by the municipality.

The total financial exposure to Mount Airy would be $5 million to $13 million, counting required infrastructure and other expenses and the receiving of tax credits to aid new uses for former textile mills which would offset part of the expense.

State analysts say this could subject city residents to a 10-cent hike in property taxes during the Barter’s initial years here, among other financial repercussions.

Officials regrouping

It was widely reported in the wake of the March 22 LGC ruling that the Barter project in Mount Airy had been killed, but Yokeley stressed Friday that he and others are not “prepared to quit.”

After the preliminary rejection by the Local Government Commission staff, Mount Airy officials met to discuss their next move, in a closed session on April 4, deciding that Yokeley and Mayor David Rowe would spearhead plans for the return visit.

“But we haven’t contacted the LGC and don’t have a date to go,” Yokeley said Friday.

He explained that he and the mayor will be holding planning and strategy sessions beforehand.

Yokeley was not part of the city delegation journeying to the state capital last month, and suggests that it was caught off-guard or unaware of the full implications of the meeting.

“We didn’t think it was time to go talk to them,” he said in indicating that Mount Airy representatives didn’t perhaps take along all the documents needed for a complete presentation. “We’ll be prepared this next time.”

Yokeley is shooting for a meeting in late April or early May, again citing the urgency involved — particularly in relation to another project to construct a four-star hotel on the Spencer’s site to serve Barter patrons from out of town.

“Because the hotel developer has come forward — she’s getting cold feet,” he said of Dana Bryson, owner of K2 Hotels and Services, and the motivation this provides for moving quickly.

Yokeley reiterated concerns cited by Bryson in a recent letter to city officials about the need to pin down a “demand generator” for the 90-room hotel and banquet center planned. Bryson has said she needs some sense of direction from municipal officials soon to satisfy her development team, underwriters and investors.

“We’re in a time crunch,” Yokeley said.

Bryson also has suggested that the city government hire a financial adviser to facilitate the process, for which the commissioners earlier earmarked $100,000.

Yokeley said Friday that no one has been selected for that role, but an experienced financial consultant has been advising city officials recently on the Barter plan at no charge. That person is not expected to be hired if the situation reaches that point, he added.


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.