Non-profit Group Works to Save Old Brunswick County Courthouse

StarNews Nonprofit seeks to save courthouse

Residents and city officials examine ways to save the old Brunswick County Courthouse and Southport City Hall building.

Non-profit Group Works to Save Old Brunswick County Courthouse

Published first on Star News Online by Carolyn Bowers

Picture a magnificent, newly-renovated historic building in downtown Southport where people can attend a classical music performance and enjoy a glass of chardonnay with a friend. After the concert is over, they can take a walk around the foyer and admire paintings, or perhaps watch artists as they paint.

This is the vision of Up Your Arts, a non-profit organization founded in 2017 to support and enhance the arts in the greater Southport area. The group is working on a plan to renovate and repurpose the historic Brunswick County Courthouse, located at the intersection of Davis and Moore streets.

From 1854 to 1978, the old Brunswick County Courthouse is where county business took place, and for the next 36 years it was the city hall for Southport. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The building has been empty since Southport city officials moved out in 2014 and the police department relocated in 2016. But its 165 year-old history tells the story of Brunswick County and the rise of Smithville, now Southport. That’s why Up Your Arts and the city officials agree that it should be preserved.

City officials are looking at several options for its future. According to John Keiffer, creative director for Up Your Arts (UYA), UYA envisions partnering with the town and turning it into a community building to be used, not only as a venue for all of the various performing arts groups, but also as a meeting place for the city officials, non-profit groups and special events. In the next few months they intend to present a formal request to the aldermen asking to be granted six months to explore the possibility of doing the renovation. As part of their due diligence they will have a structural engineering survey done and a historical survey. According to Southport Mayor J.V. Dove, the town has already spent more than $200,000 to replace the old roof and do some work on the exterior. The interior has mold issues and possibly lead paint and asbestos that will have to be removed.

UYA plans to launch a capital campaign to pay for the renovations and then make the activities self-sustaining. Under their plan, the town would own the building and UYA would lease it for a nominal fee and be responsible for the utilities, upkeep and maintenance. This would be similar to the arrangement that the town has had for years with Franklin Square Gallery and The Associated Artists of Southport.

But this is not a done deal. The town is looking into other options as well.

In 2017, Tyler Mulligan, professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his class evaluated the situation and determined that it would be financially feasible for a private entity to buy the building, pay for the rehabilitation and lease the space to tenants, such as a restaurant or retail store, which would generate additional tax revenue for the town. However, one developer looked at the property and concluded that it didn’t have enough parking spaces and the windows were not conducive to showcasing their merchandise. But it could be used for office space. Another plan proposed bulldozing the building and putting up condos or townhomes.

The overriding sentiment with both the aldermen and the town residents seems to be to preserve the structure as the historic building that it is. As Bruce Oakley, city manager, said, “Preservation of the building and its historical elements is everyone’s main goal. The specific usage for it comes next.”

The two-story building is about 10,000 square feet, and Keiffer has been advised that the cost of restoring and renovating an historic building is approximately $200 per sq. ft., which would put the cost of the restoration at about $2 million. Then there would be the additional expense for furniture and fixtures and a state-of-the-art sound system and stage lighting.

Keiffer’s wife, Bonnie Bray, also a UYA board member, along with a very large committee of dedicated volunteers, have already started to develop a capital campaign. They have identified three areas for grant funding possibilities: grants for historic preservation, for main street (municipal) development, and for the arts. They are planning some major fundraising events in addition to soliciting corporate and individual donations.

“We need community support,” Bray said, “but not tax dollars.”

While she and her committee were discussing all this, Keiffer walked in the room, heard them, and said, “Save the hall, y’all.” And that became the UYA rallying cry. They hope it will be one that the town residents will get behind.

Published On: July 6, 2019 | Category: | Tags:

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