Investors: Not enough public support for arts center in Zebulon

amoody@newsobserver.comApril 15, 2014 

— In what may seem like an odd change of heart, the first prospective buyers of Zebulon’s former town hall say they are glad commissioners officially rejected their offer at a meeting April 7.

Mark Cronk, Blake Lewis, Glenn Lewis and Dallas Pearce wanted to turn the 100 N. Arendell Ave. property into an arts center linked to the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. They thought an arts center would be the answer to reviving downtown Zebulon.

After commissioners were polled in private in March and unofficially turned down the offer of $90,000, Pearce said he and fellow investors would get a feel for the public’s response before taking any further action. He said they got an answer, although not the one they were hoping for, when only a handful of residents attended the meeting to support their effort.

“With all the exposure it got, there were only two downtown business owners and maybe a half dozen there to listen to that portion of the meeting,” said Pearce, a local real estate agent. “It was a cold shoulder not only from the board.

“It wasn’t so much the (town) board that bothered me, but the residents. I don’t see a lot of enthusiasm for anything. I think that’s why the downtown has gone into a distressed mode and is seeing so many vacancies.”

Glenn Lewis, a local insurance agent, said the lack of support from residents would likely have forced them to withdraw their offer even if the town board had accepted it.

“We did not see enough interest from the town or the citizens or the business community,” Lewis said. “It takes a lot of interest from the town and its people for a project like that to work.”

Pearce previously said if an arts center proved popular enough with the public, the investors would search for another location.

“If we ultimately had good support I could’ve even said, ‘Hey guys, lets up the offer,’ ” Pearce said Wednesday. “I don’t want anyone to get confused. The meeting was about us making an offer to bring an arts center, but the town did not have to accept that low an offer.”

The investors said the offer was well below the town’s $145,000 asking price to offset the cost of turning the property into a state-of-the-art facility. Mayor Bob Matheny at the meeting said upfit costs were already considered when the town decreased the asking price by 34 percent (down from $218,750) in February 2013.

That was the second time the town reduced the asking price. The property was originally listed at $259,000 after town offices relocated to the Zebulon Municipal Complex in 2009. Wake County real estate records list the property’s tax value at $308,545.

Pearce considers the outcome the end of the road for his involvement trying to form an arts center in town.

He began to organize a committee last year and was looking into securing a building and funding for a center prior to joining the other three on the recent offer.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s over,” Pearce said. “I hope maybe one day some more people will get on board and try to make it happen. It just going to take some time and some different people, I’m afraid.”

Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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