Appeal of arts center in Zebulon opening doors

amoody@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2013 

— The prospect of an arts center in downtown has led Zebulon to bend on a stance it has held onto firmly for the past several years.

Since town offices moved in 2009 to the Zebulon Municipal Complex, commissioners made it clear more than once they did not wish to lease the town’s former, downtown office spaces. They turned down several requests to lease the properties because they made a promise voters they would sell them and use the proceeds toward paying off the loan on the new facilities.

But Mayor Bob Matheny said last week the town board has given tentative approval to a plan to lease Zebulon’s former town hall space at the corner of Arendell Avenue and Vance Street to a group working to bring an arts center to downtown. But the agreement includes conditions that would be tied to that approval.

The group would have to form a non-profit organization. It would also have to demonstrate to the town it has the finances in place to rent the space at the market rate of $1,450 per month for the arts center’s planned trial run of two years.

“We don’t want to end up in a situation where down the road they don’t have the money to make the payments and we end up being the bad guy because we have to evict them,” Matheny said. “The board hasn’t taken any action on this, and they would have to.

“But (the arts center proponents) have a lot of work left to do. They’re not an entity yet.”

The town’s willingness to consider renting the space was a good start for supporters of the arts center, whose two main obstacles in making the center a reality are funding and location. With a potential site in mind, committee members can turn their attention to raising the money they need to make the deal work.

Finding the money

The United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, which organizers hope will one day offer programs at the arts center, recommended the local arts group commit to providing a building and utilities for two years. Eleanor Oakley, president of the UAC, said that amount of time would reveal if the concept sticks in Zebulon.

“You really need about 24 months to cycle through a year to see if this is something the citizens of Zebulon would welcome and participate in, because a lot of effort will have to go into making this happen,” Oakley said.

Local real estate agent Dallas Pearce, who helped jump start the arts center initiative, crunched numbers to figure out what that amount of time would require in terms of finances.

“About $52,000 must be raised to cover initial costs and the two-year window the arts council needs to get every program up and running smooth,” said Pearce. “We’d probably try and get commitments to cover that $52,000 before we bring (the arts center) here.”

Pearce invited Matheny, two representatives of the United Arts Council and prospective steering committee members for a local arts center to a meeting at his office June 11. The purpose of the meeting was to unite interests and learn more about the programs the arts council provides.

The next step, Pearce says, is finalizing a workable business strategy. That will include finding private and corporate sponsorship for rent and utilities.

“We are in the process of lining up our next meeting,” Pearce said. “We’re pretty organized. The people we’ve been talking to are green-light people. Those are the kind of people you want on something like this.”

Moody: 919-829-4806

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