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Watauga Commissioners Direct Attorney To Draft Two-Year Lease for Arts Council For Old New River Building

By Jesse Wood

April 2, 2013. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners doesn’t receive a round of applause very often, but the five members did on Tuesday morning after vocalizing their support in leasing a county-owned building to the Watauga County Arts Council, which had more than a dozen supporters in attendance, for $1 per year. 

FIXE_0284The fine print hasn’t been finalized – as the board directed the County Attorney Four Eggers to draft a two-year agreement for the lease of the old New River Behavioral HealthCare building that is located at the intersection of State Farm Road and Shadowline Drive.

Via direction from the board, the agreement will likely be contingent upon terms such as no subletting without the county’s approval; no costs to the county for exterior or interior renovations to the building; and no right of first refusal if county receives an acceptable offer on the property.  The commissioners also directed staff to see how much mowing and snowplowing would cost the county.

So unless a substantial offer on the 3,300-square-foot building comes through immediately, it looks like the Watauga County Board of Commissioners are going to go to bat for the WCAC.

The property has been on the market for $625,000. On Tuesday morning, Commissioner David Blust asked County Manager Deron Geouque if the county has received any serious offers on the property. Geouque said that some folks have inquired, but no offers have been received.

Geouque mentioned that the inside of the building, the roof and HVAC units are in good condition. He noted that the carpet is about 10 or 15 years past due.

“Actually in very good shape for a building of its age and maintenance and so forth,” Geouque said.

Photo by Ken Ketchie
Photo by Ken Ketchie

After exiting the Jones House last year, WCAC Executive Director Cherry Johnson moved its offices into a three-room suite in the Appalachian Enterprise Center, which was donated by the Watauga Committee of 100, and moved its gallery into the Suite A of the green building next to Murphy’s Restaurant and Pub, which was also donated – this time by the Winkler Organization.

However, Appalachian Enterprise Center management changed in November, leading Johnson to consolidate into one room, according to memos in the Tuesday’s meeting packet, and the Watauga Arts Council also was notified very recently that it was to move out of the green building on King Street by mid April to make way for a coffee shop.

Johnson initially proposed a five-year lease (with optional five-year renewals) for the building to host art galleries, creative classes, a gift shop and more to establish the Blue Ridge ArtSpace in conjunction with the Michael Patricelli Craft Enrichment Program at ASU and the ASU Community School of Music. The space would host learning activities in virtually all of the arts.

“I am convinced we could fill the building to the brim for lots of experiences for folks in Watauga County,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Billy Kennedy noted that he would like to see the three groups consolidate.

“I think all three could grow if they had a space like this,” Kennedy said. “Crafts, music, the arts are a huge part of our heritage.”

The county currently funds WCAC to the tune of $8,800 per year, which the WCAC leverages to receive grant funds. Chairman Nathan Miller noted that he would probably vote not to give that money to WCAC in the future since it was providing WCAC with a $1 per year lease that is extremely below the market rate.

Addressed to Johnson, Commissioner Perry Yates, who expressed his support for the council in yesterday’s preview article on this topic, said at the meeting, “I think at budget time, you come back and explain how [WCAC] is getting money from grants, and we might look at differently.”

Yates made a motion for the county attorney to draft a two-year lease to be presented to the commissioners at its next meeting, and all the commissioners approved the motion – and applause ensued.