Community arts center attracts crowd at meeting
Last Wednesday's informational meeting concerning the establishment of a Community Arts Center in the now vacant lumberyard downtown brought an overflow crowd with plenty of interest.
There were around 55 people packed into the library meeting room which had been the venue for a Baldwin City Council meeting the Monday before where downtown revitalization was discussed.
"We have more interest here than we had at the city council meeting," said Bill Harmon, Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce president, during remarks prior to the discussion on the center. "I just want to say the chamber is behind this 100 percent and so am I. It would be hard to do that if there were only five people here."
Organizers of the meeting, which includes several organizations, including the Baldwin Community Arts Council and the Baldwin City Community Theatre, were thrilled with the attendance. The majority of those there also signed up to help with the proposed project, including serving on the steering committee.
"I really believed there would be lots of interest in an arts center downtown, but the turnout was overwhelming," said Laura Morford, BCAC president. "There's no doubt this project is going to take off."
The meeting consisted of presentations by several people concerning what has been done to get the project started and what's hoped to happen with it. Current plans call for an exhibit gallery, a theater, a brick-lined courtyard, some classrooms, a kitchen and a retail area to be located in and around the former lumberyard building at 718 High St. Beyond that, details of how and what will happen are still up in the air.
That was one of the major reasons behind having the meeting -- to gauge public interest and determine what people would want at the center. Linda Ballinger, president of the BCCT, spoke about having a theater to return the summer play to downtown after its return this year to the Baldwin Junior High School Auditorium because of the costs involved in renting equipment to stage the play.
"From the time we started until 1997, we were at the auditorium," said Ballinger of the always-popular June theater event. "In 1998 when the auditorium was being remodeled we went outside for the first time. This year we're back inside. A permanent stage with access by the public downtown would be greatly appreciated. We know how much people like having the play downtown."
After the presentations, questions and comments were taken from the audience. Sandy Cardens, former BCAC president who has done a lot of the ground work for the project, provided the best answers she could.
"What might this cost? I haven't a clue what this might cost until we know what you want," said Cardens. "What will it cost to purchase the building? I don't know. We have not been given a price. It could be anywhere from free to $100,000. It will depend a lot on the interest shown in the project."
There were numerous other questions regarding possible grants to be used, when the center might be completed, capacity of the theater, etc. All that could be provided were best guesses at this point.
"This is the first preliminary meeting we've had on the project, so maybe we can't answer some of your questions," said Kathy Daugherty, who served as moderator.
To help gauge interest in the project, the Signal is conducting a poll on its Web site at www.baldwincity.com and by phone by calling the office at 594-7080. For more information or to inquire about the project, call Cardens at 594-4261 or Diane Niehoff at 594-3244. Cardens can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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