Thursday’s vote by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners to sign an agreement with the Barter Theatre of Abingdon, Virginia, could be a game-changer for Mount Airy.
Only time will tell if that’s for good or bad.
What we do know is that the city will be paying out millions of dollars in the short-term for infrastructure improvements and construction costs, as well as potentially hundreds of thousands more in annual support money for the new venture for more than a decade.
This money is simply not in the city’s budget. That has led commissioners Jon Cawley and Jim Armbrister to openly question how the bills will be paid without a significant tax increase on the city residents.
Commissioner Steve Yokeley has countered that no tax increase will be needed — ever — to pay any of the expenses associated with the Barter Theatre development. We’re not sure how that math works, but we hope Yokeley turns out to be right.
The other thing we know, or at least hope, is that the city will be the home for a state-of-the-art, modern, new theater, where Barter officials have promised upwards of 250 live shows will be performed annually.
The city has likewise been promised a four-star hotel and convention facility, as well as upscale housing as part of the Spencer redevelopment project.
These promises sound great, and if they come to fruition as promised, we believe the city could find itself with a significant increase in and diversification of its tourism base. That could have a far-reaching ripple through the local economy, potentially supporting new restaurants, shops, and similar businesses.
The potential payoff is great, yet the potential damage to be done to the local economy is perhaps even worse should the project fail.
Those opposite ends of the spectrum have created sharp divides in the community over this project, and rightfully so. There are questions which still haven’t been fully addressed regarding local money, what effect Barter might have on the Surry Arts Council (not to mention if the new hotel will simply siphon guests from existing establishments), and how much tax revenue the city might eventually recoup from the development.
Unfortunately, as seems to be the case far too often in recent years, those differences have strayed from legitimate policy and financial questions to personal attacks and folks dredging up disagreements and arguments that divided folks in Mount Airy two and three years ago.
There really should be no room for this, and we hope local residents and politicians will stop with the personal attacks and focus on the issues.
As for those issues, the vote is done. The city has agreed to enter into the pact with Barter, and now it is time for everyone to put aside those differences, work together and make the project a success.
We’re sure there are a few folks holding their breath, waiting — even hoping — for failure in order to utter those infamous words: I told you so.
No one wins in that scenario.
A lot of energy has been expended on both sides of the issue. A lot of smart, capable people at odds with one another.
With the vote behind us, now is the time for people to devote that energy and intelligence to helping the city find a way to make this project wildly successful. At this point, that is the best way to ensure jobs are created, new and existing businesses flourish, and tax rates do not skyrocket.
We hope everyone will get on board now, put aside those differences and help Mount Airy continue to grow into a shining example of how a small modern city can continually reinvent itself.