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Hendersonville, NC: Will this Plan "Perform"?

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From the Hendersonville Times-News (11/19/03)


Old Grey Hosiery site might become arts center

Jonathan Rich

Times-News Staff Writer

[email protected]

Plans are gaining momentum to build a $17 million, 1,200-seat performance hall and artistic center at a historic location in downtown Hendersonville by the spring of 2007.

Two years ago, a small group of local residents concerned about the future of the Grey Hosiery Mill at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Grove Street began meeting to develop a plan for the 127,650-square-foot property owned by the city.

Tuesday night, representatives for the nonprofit Old Mill Cultural Center Inc. updated the City Council on their ideas during a special meeting at the City Operations Center.

"This concept involves the preservation, renovation and hopefully reuse of the old mill," said Sharon Alexander, chairwoman and president of the organization's board of directors. "It's a community project, and we hope the people of Hendersonville will become enthused and activated by our ideas."

Alexander said the group's basic plans are to renovate 21,150 existing square feet of the property and to add 32,500 square feet of new construction to create a 1,200-seat performance hall with state-of-the-art sound and theatrical production facilities that primarily would be used by the community.

Early feasibility studies propose the project would also include a 350-seat building for use as a community conference center for civic and social events. The remaining property could be used as office space for local nonprofit and cultural organizations. A total of 94 parking spaces are being considered on the site with additional public parking available at city lots within two blocks of the property.

"The plan as it stands right now has a tremendous amount of potential and it will involve a lot of work, but it could be a really great project," said Michael Newman, an architect with Price Newman Payne Architects of Greensboro who has 40 years of experience designing visual art facilities.

Final designs for the project will be reviewed next year after the National Endowment for the Arts conducts a national architecture competition for possible uses of the property.

A lure for industry

The Grey Hosiery Mill was built in 1915 at the request of Hendersonville residents to bring industrial development to the town. It originally produced knee-length ribbed stockings for children and then production changed to make women's seamless hosiery after World War II.

It was operated by the Grey family until 1965, when it was sold to Holt Hosiery Mills of Burlington. At the peak of its production, the factory made 66,000 pairs of hosiery a week and employed 250 people.

Holt stopped production at the mill in 1967. Since then, the building has provided a number of uses, including being a craft store and a temporary home for the public library. The property was bought by the city of Hendersonville for about $400,000 in 1992 as a possible site for city offices. It is now vacant, and it most recently housed the city of Hendersonville's Water and Sewer Department.

The mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 and is the only historic industrial building remaining in the Hendersonville city limits. Its historic status protects it against demolition and gives tax exemptions for a large part of the cost to restore it.

Major changes needed

To be the "culturally vibrant center" organizers want it to become, the mill will need some major improvements.

Of the $17 million price tag, $1.7 million is budgeted for items such as architectural and engineering fees, technical land surveys and legal fees. New construction would cost an estimated $6.74 million, with renovations adding another $2.115 million.

Seating for the performance hall alone is expected to cost $180,000 with lighting and sound systems expected to cost $150,000 and $75,000, respectively.

Organizers realize those costs are not small items to ask for, but they hope programs at the center would generate 30 percent of the annual income, with tax incentives providing another 20 percent and renting space on the property to various nonprofit community groups providing another 15 percent.

It is hoped community donations would provide 5 percent of the yearly operating income, with tickets and other sales during programs providing another 4 percent.

Cultural endowments would be expected to provide 16 percent of annual funding and the remaining 10 percent might come from city and county sources.

Mayor Fred Niehoff said renovating the mill into a cultural center might be a worthwhile investment for the city of Hendersonville.

"There's a lot of potential for this to happen here," Niehoff said following the presentation. "There seems to be a lot of interest in the community for this, and it could be our big chance to do something great that would impact thousands of people."

Niehoff said he hoped all city and county governments in the area might consider using one penny from their property tax rate or capital improvement funds to contribute to the project.

"One penny from the City Council and one penny from the county commissioners could help us create this fine facility," Niehoff said.

County Commissioner Larry Young also expressed hopes that the concept could become a reality near downtown Hendersonville.

"I think it's a great plan and the community needs this, but finding the money for it may be another thing," Young said. "I think all the municipalities ought to get behind this to make it a go and the county would contribute what we can as well."

Concern over courthouse

There was some concern by community members that creation of a new cultural center might conflict with plans to renovate Henderson County's Historic Courthouse on Main Street for similar purposes, but Brenda Coates, an art professor at Western Carolina University and a member of the Old Mill Cultural Center board, said she does not think it would be a problem.

"We support the courthouse renovation endeavor and don't think there will be any competition," Coates said. "If both of these plans can get off the ground, it would only be great for all of Hendersonville."

Dr. George Jones, director of the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Center, gave his complete support to the idea as well.

"It's a worthy project and the day for the idea has finally come," Jones said.

Alexander said that after hearing that kind of support, she is very excited about conducting a workshop with the City Council sometime early next month and beginning fund-raising on the project in February.

"I am overwhelmed with the enthusiasm we have received so far for this project, and now I think we are all ready for City Council to give us our marching orders to make it happen," she said.

Contact Rich at 694-7890 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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Guest donaltopablo

It sounds pretty cool, but does Hendersonville really have a need for a 1,700 seat venue such as this? When I go to Hendersonville, I just don't where they are going to get the value back out of it.

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I think Hendersonville could easily get its money's worth out of a performing arts center. I can think of three theatre groups in town, and there are probably more, plus the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra, the various community bands, the Folkmoot International Dance Festival venues held here, and lots more.

Heck, who knows? Even the Arts Center of Henderson County -- the same folks hosting an exhibit of Picasso ceramics right now -- might move in as well. Currently, arts events are held all over town, though usually at local high school auditoriums and at Blue Ridge Community College. That ought to change. It's the rare night in Hendersonville that you can't see a play or hear a concert, and it's time for the arts community in Henderson County to have its own home at last.

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The Flat Rock Playhouse, State Theatre of North Carolina does sell out consistently. It's actually quite a tourist draw to the area. I work at a hotel and many of our guests throughout the summer and fall have come to Hendersonville from places like Charlotte, Columbia, and Atlanta to see a performance.

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