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July 22, 2014

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Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence, left, gives former town commissioner Tommy Klutz a plaque honoring him for his years of service to the town. Photo by Jeff Eason

Originally published: 2014-01-16 09:22:09
Last modified: 2014-01-16 09:22:55

Council tables decisions on buildings’ use

By unanimous vote, the Blowing Rock Town Council decided to put off for a month decisions that will affect the future of two neighboring properties in the downtown area.

During Tuesday evening’s meeting of the commissioners, the council voted to table a decision to have staff begin working with Ensemble Stage to evaluate the feasibility of using the former Blowing Rock Fire Station located behind Town Hall as Ensemble Stage’s future home.

Ensemble Stage had requested an 18-month period to raise money to refurbish the building into a theater for year-round productions. Currently, the stage company uses the stage in the Blowing Rock Elementary School auditorium, and its production schedule is often dictated by the school and Mountain Home Music, a concert production company that also uses the auditorium.

Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue vacated the former fire station building five years ago and since that time it has been used for storage for lawn mowers and other town equipment.

The proposal from Ensemble Stage would allow the company exclusive use of the building for the 18 months needed to raise funds and an additional six months for the refurbishment.

“The onus is upon us to raise the money and do it in a timely fashion,” said Gary Smith, directing producer of Ensemble Stage. “I’m sure it will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Commissioner Albert Yount questioned Smith on the apparent urgency on getting the stage company out of the school’s auditorium.

“Sharing the space with two or three other groups keeps us from having longer production runs,” Smith said.

“Most stage companies have shows that run from three to eight weeks. With us, it is normal for our rehearsal times to be longer than our production runs. And as we all know, you don’t make money during rehearsals. You make money during the show’s run,” he said.

According to Yount, there were apparently some problems with the groups coordinating the facility according to school officials.

“Even if we resolved these differences, we still could not be a year-round theater company because of the school’s schedule,”  Smith said. “And we feel that a year-round theater company does a lot to generate the local economy. People come up for a show and enjoy a dinner somewhere, do some shopping and even stay in one of our hotels.”

Smith added that the company works hard to incorporate children and Blowing Rock School into its production schedule and suggested that the company had offers from other towns, but would prefer to stay in Blowing Rock.

The commissioners voted unanimously to table the issue for a month to gather more information and to look at Ensemble Stage’s finances and fundraising plans.

The commissioners also voted unanimously to table a motion to decide on bids for the American Legion building improvement plan.

According to town manager Scott Fogleman, the initial bids for the project are above the currently appropriated funds.

A variety of plans for the building were discussed for the facility, some of them including amenities such as a covered deck on the rear of the building overlooking Broyhill Lake.

Commissioner Sue Sweeting suggested that the Blowing Rock Historical Society, one of the community groups that regularly uses the American Legion building, lead the way in fundraising to provide the difference in the original estimated cost of improvements and the current estimate.

“This building has so many uses,” Sweeting said. “We should make it into something we can be proud of. I think we should challenge the people of Blowing Rock to raise $100,000 to be matched by the town.”

Currently, the American Legion building is used by the historical society, by the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce for Art in the Park events, the American Legion, Boy Scout Troop 101, Blowing Rock Parks and Recreation and other groups.

The town hopes that improvements to the building will make it more desirable for wedding receptions, reunions and other paid events.

“It is the country club for people in town who can’t afford to be in the country club,” Ginny Stevens, a representative from the historical society, said.
The commissioners voted unanimously to table until next month any decision regarding the improvement project.

Before the meeting, Blowing Rock Mayor J.B. Lawrence presented a plaque to outgoing commissioner Tommy Klutz in recognition of his service to the town.

After the meeting, commissioners met in closed session to discuss executive decisions regarding a local business venture.

The next regularly scheduled public meeting of the town council will take place at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Town Hall.

For more information and stories, see The Blowing Rocket.

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