The curtain may have closed on Barter Theatre’s expansion to the former Spencer’s property in Mount Airy.
Multiple media outlets reported Monday evening that the North Carolina Local Government Commission denied the project, with one Mount Airy official quoted as stating the commission deemed the project too risky.
The North Carolina Local Government Commission is under the supervision of the Treasury Department of North Carolina and has to approve all borrowing and financing by local governments.
The Bristol Herald-Courier, quoting a release sent to it by the Barter Theatre, said the state commission killed the project on Monday.
Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe said the commission, represented by three staff members, thought the project was too risky and too expensive at this time, the Tennessee paper said.
The controversial project had divided the public and the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners, with those opposing the $13.5 million project calling it too expensive. They also expressed concern that the city would be responsible for up to $600,000 a year in operating cost, while Barter Theatre officials would be able to walk away from the project at any time without penalty.
Mount Airy had also committed to infrastructure improvements costing an estimated $4.5 million, and had already spent more than $100,000 on preliminary legal work by a Charlotte firm, well in excess of the original estimate of $39,000.
Those supporting the measure largely said it was vital to the revitalization effort of the former textile property, expressing a fear that if the city voted against the project, Mount Airy might lose a four-star hotel and convention center planned for the complex, as well as residential units to be built there. They also believed such a project would attract new business to the city.
The board voted 3-2 to enter into a contract with the Abingdon, Virginia based company earlier this month.
The city has already committed to spending $100,000 for a financial advisor since that vote — double what the city commissioners initially were told would be necessary.
Barter officials had not yet officially approved the deal when word of the Commission’s denial came.
“Due to the current situation, Barter’s Board of Trustees was not able to vote on this agreement. Thus, at the moment, we are not able to move forward with the project,” Barter Theatre Producing Artistic Director Richard Rose said, according to the Bristol Herald-Courier.
The press released added that Barter’s Board and staff were “greatly disappointed by this unfortunate turn of events.”
Rowe echoed the sentiment. “The word I would use is crushed,” he said, adding that Mount Airy officials are going to do everything in their power to salvage the deal.
“If they had said it was a go, it would have been a go,” he explained.