Efforts to expand the Barter Theatre to Mount Airy continue to move ahead, based on favorable reports from two separate meetings recently with Barter and Surry County government officials.
One session occurred on Sept. 7 at the Barter’s home base in Abingdon, Virginia, where a city government delegation met with theater officials to negotiate various aspects of the proposal.
Then last Thursday, a different set of Mount Airy representatives gathered with Surry officials at the county Government Center in Dobson for another round of discussions.
Both sessions were closed to the public, with economic development cited as the reason. This relates to the Barter’s planned inclusion in a major redevelopment project for the former Spencer’s industrial property in downtown Mount Airy.
City officials who attended each meeting say the negotiations went well with both Barter and county representatives. They are key players in the theater project along with private developers who are heavily bankrolling the Spencer’s redevelopment effort, including the 500-seat theater and a four-star hotel/banquet center nearby.
“I guess I shouldn’t talk about the negotiations, but the atmosphere was terrific,” said Commissioner Jon Cawley, who was part of the Mount Airy delegation meeting with Surry leaders. They included Larry Johnson and Larry Phillips, the Mount Airy District representatives on the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
The private developers — Dana Bryson and Gray Angell, who have spearheaded a number of projects in the Forsyth County area — have agreed to supply much of the financing for the Spencer’s redevelopment, estimated at around $50 million. The theater alone has a $13.5 million price tag.
Mount Airy officials also are seeking funding input from the county government to aid the municipality with the public component of the project which amounts to $6 million-plus — “to keep the city from getting hurt financially,” Cawley said.
“I think the county is very open to helping us in a way that’s good for the city and the county,” he said in the wake of last Thursday’s meeting with Surry officials.
Although no firm decisions were made at the meeting lasting nearly three hours, Cawley said the city’s approach to the county is that any funding support it provides will be offset by revenues it stands to collect from Spencer’s/Barter efforts.
“The county understands if this economic development happens, they’ll be the second-biggest winner,” the city commissioner said of extra sales tax proceeds derived. “The state will be the first.” Surry also would reap property tax revenues from the former Spencer’s site now owned by the municipality.
“I’m very appreciative of what the county is going to do for us, because without their input we can’t do this,” Cawley said of development costs, for which no figure has been given regarding Surry’s participation in the meeting’s aftermath.
Cawley indicated that the relevant information will be assembled as the process continues. “The next step hasn’t been determined yet.”
Mayor David Rowe, who was part of the city group meeting with theater officials during the closed session on Sept. 7, also emerged from the four-hour conference with positive thoughts.
“We came away thinking we have done what could be done at this point,” Rowe said afterward.
He said the discussion included expanding an original agreement calling for a three-year lease by the city for the theater to five years. That is a period demanded by the developers, during which the municipality is to pay $540,000 to $580,000 in annual lease costs for the facility, under present plans.
Meanwhile, Mount Airy would sublease the theater to the Barter, as the operator.
Barter officials agreed to the five-year plan during the recent session, according to Rowe.
The theater group also will take on a greater role in a capital fundraising campaign for the project, he said.
Rowe added that ticket sale parameters were part of the talks in Abingdon, which is a key part of the arrangement since the city government is to receive a certain sum from each ticket sold to help offset its investment.
The mayor said at last report that more details from the discussions are to be released soon.
“Hugh is currently working on a rewrite of the contract (with the Barter),” he said of City Attorney Hugh Campbell.
“And I hesitate to say how it’s going to look.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.