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Wednesday, 02 June 2010 20:12

Strand project kick started with state grant

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Hidden behind 16 feet of Main Street storefront, the inside of The Strand Theater looks like a cave. The floor slopes down to a black stage surrounded by tall, black walls. Old theater chairs are stacked on the wall closest to Wall Street.

Tools, random pieces of furniture and a few lights are scattered around the interior. A ramp leads up to the balcony, which is little more than wooden beams overlaid with plywood.

But all of that is about to change.

“I can see it all,” developer Richard Miller said, looking around the vacated building. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Miller has renovated several other properties, including buildings at the corner of Church and Main Streets. He acquired the theater in a trade for apartments and condos last year, he said.

The theater has been closed since the early 1980s, and opening The Strand again will cost about $1.4 million, Miller said. His next step is raising $1 million from investors who can contribute between $50,000 and $250,000. Waynesville has secured a $300,000 grant from the state’s Main Street Solutions fund to renovate the theater.

“We are offering a chance to own a piece of Waynesville and a piece of Waynesville’s future,” he said.

Kevin Sandefur, founder of Headwaters Brewing Company, said he thinks the renovated theater will draw more tourists.

“I think it will be a huge draw to the downtown area because there’s not an attraction on Main Street,” he said.

Sandefur will be opening a microbrewery in the theater. He also won $8,000 in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Business Start-up Competition this year to buy brewing and bottling equipment so he can start selling his beer out of The Classic Wine Seller on Church Street, which is also owned by Miller. The area at the Strand will serve as a small distribution center, he said.

He has established five beers he will serve at both the Strand and The Wine Seller, including a rich, robust chocolate porter; an Irish red; an ale that’s one of his favorites; a hoppy, citrusy IPA; a lager; and his award-winning Black Eye Rye.

Sandefur said he also plans to create specialty beers flavored with local produce. He said he’s both excited and overwhelmed by the grant.

“It puts a sense of urgency on my plans,” he said. “But if anyone can do it, we can.”

Sandefur is a full-time emergency room nurse at Harris Regional Hospital. He works three 12-hour shifts a week but plans on spending some of his own time on the construction since he has a contractor’s license.

“I feel I can invest some time and sweat equity into it,” Sandefur said.

The first steps will be leveling the floor that slopes down to the old stage and fixing the plumbing, Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s brewery will be located beneath the existing balcony. The balcony overlooks the old stage and is perpendicular to Main Street. Although the old stage will be removed and replaced by a kitchen, the balcony will stay.

The old balcony will be walled in and turned into an art gallery. Another lower balcony, opposite of the existing one, will be built over the kitchen with restaurant seating.

An affordable Italian restaurant will occupy the center of the first floor, and a new stage will be built on the wall adjacent to Main Street.

Miller said he envisions a variety of performances, including Sunday morning gospel music accompanied by brunch.

Although the Main Street grant is a start, Miller said he and others will not receive the money until the building’s renovations are complete.

“It’ll be a good thing to have a building that’s been empty for 25 years open,” Miller said. “It’ll bring a lot of new life to downtown.”

From the time the project has enough investors to start construction, it will take 14 months to complete, Miller said.

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