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Patrons of the cultural arts center in Leland made it clear September 2014 can’t come soon enough to open the new facility.
They showed their enthusiasm by packing the lobby of the Best Western Plus in Leland the night of Thursday, Aug. 29, to greet the town’s first cultural arts manager.
“This goes to show, if you give the people what they want they’ll come out for it,” Mayor Brenda Bozeman said.
In 2010, the town bought an unfinished 18,000-square-foot building that sits off U.S. 17 at 1212 Magnolia Village Way, behind P.T.’s Olde Fashioned Grille near Magnolia Greens development.
In 2011, the town decided it would house an arts hub with a stage/auditorium for public events and rooms for woodworking, pottery and painting/visual arts classrooms as well as a catering kitchen, a gallery and administrative offices.
The building is complete, but the interior is unfinished.
Architect John Sawyer was hired to redesign the building. Sawyer’s plans incorporate the existing layout of the building; the only structural change planned is a redesigned entrance.
Bozeman said in 2011 she and commissioner Pat Batleman and town manager David Hollis attended a convention where they learned about promoting economic development while serving the community.
“We decided this would not be (just a) community center. We would make it a cultural arts center. We needed something other than sports,” Bozeman said.
Parks and recreation director Niel Brooks was put in charge of the project, finding a designer for the building and a manager for the programs and staff.
Brooks thanked the large crowd for coming out Thursday and encouraged everyone to find an activity when the building opens.
“You folks will make it work, or not work. You made a great showing tonight,” he said.
Brooks said a national search brought in 200 applications for the position.
Leland hired Jill M. Brown, who has served as director of the city of Raleigh’s Sertoma Arts Center since 2008.
“(Brown’s) experience is tailor-made for what we were looking for,” Brooks said. “The other candidates were great, but Jill stood out. She has a passion for the arts and a passion to build something from the ground up.”
Brown has also served as the Durham Arts Council art school/facility manager and was an arts education faculty member at Bowling Green State University. She has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Ohio University and a master of arts education from the University of Toledo.
“This is such a unique opportunity. I did a lot of re-organizing (in previous jobs), but to do this from the ground up piqued my interest. Then I met everyone and that sold me,” Brown said. “I feel fortunate to help develop everything — outfitting the building, hiring the staff, everything.”
Brown will start working for the town through the parks and recreation department Monday, Sept. 9. She will earn a starting salary of about $50,000, Brooks said.
Hollis said Brown was hired a year early because she will have “a lot of organization to get together — how the programs will run, how to market the center and try to build supporters.”
The Friends of the Cultural Arts Center also used the introduction of the new manager to sign up new members during the open house.
Stephanie Wallis, who works with the Friends of the Cultural Arts program, helped show visitors poster diagrams of the building space and described activities that will be held there.
“We did not expect this turnout,” Wallis said. “This is above and beyond our expectations.”
Schematic drawings of the two-story building plans, which were placed around the room, showed activity rooms proposed for the building.
“On the schematic drawings, not every room has a label. We want it to be flexible,” Brooks said.
He said building contracts were planned to go out for bid in 30 to 45 days, and they hope work will be finished to use the building beginning in September 2014.
Brooks said the town committed more than $2 million to complete the building, but needs the help of Friends of the Cultural Arts to help support creating programs.
“The town can’t afford to do all the things that need to be done,” Brooks said.
To help with project costs, the Friends sold $10 yearly memberships to local residents and an offer to become a founding member of the cultural arts building with a $100 donation.
Members of area arts programs have already expressed interest in holding classes in the new building including Venus Flytrap Pottery, Wilmington Wood Turners, and Azalea Coast Cultural Group.
Donna and Joe Hagan of Waterford attended the Thursday night meet-and-greet to support interest in the new cultural arts building.
“We’re excited Leland is getting something on this side of the bridge,” said Donna Hagan, who is interested in participating in painting, pottery, dance and exercise classes.
Melissa Juhan said she was on a committee formed to identify needs of the arts center and advocated drama courses.
“We discussed what everyone wanted, then we would subtract a little from each section (to keep the cost down) but it is built so it will grow,” she said.
On Thursday, Juhan was stationed by a set of schematics where she told Dennis Rogers and his wife Holly about all the planned amenities.
“This is very exciting. You don’t expect this in Leland. You’d think it would be in someplace bigger,” Holly Rogers said.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or email@example.com.