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Gaffney positioning for new performing arts center

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The city of Gaffney is angling to add a performing arts center to bolster the image of its downtown.

But, as with new construction, there is a cost … $5 million to be exact.

So, some of Gaffney’s more than 12,000 residents are looking beyond the city limits for financial help with what they consider to be an economic development booster for all of Cherokee County. The aim is to pay for the project without a tax increase.

“We’re smack in the middle of Charlotte and Greenville and we continually see ourselves being passed over for different economic development projects,” said Kasey Carnley, a consultant contracted by the city of Gaffney to direct fundraising efforts. “There was a study done to see what the problems were and one was not having enough of a workforce and the other was a lack of arts and culture.”

In 2015, the Gaffney City Council voted to appropriate $3 million in revenue bonds, but only if the remaining $2 million came from private donors. It’s that $2 million that Carnley is focused on. But, it has not been an easy task thus far.

This is the rendering of a new performing arts center in Gaffney. The design was done by Craig Goulden Davis of Greenville. The price tag to build the new center is $5 million. (Photo provided)“We had small venues, but we don’t have something larger and the city has been trying to get something larger for the last 39 years,” Carnley said. “It all started with the Peach Festival in 1977 and people wanted to build a facility, but it got pushed aside for other things like education.

“We have our education right, but we are spending a lot of money in infrastructure to house children and the performing arts center was pushed aside.”

But Carnley, along with Gaffney city officials, is banking on a performing arts center becoming a major  economic development driver. City Manager James Taylor said it would be akin to how similar projects have helped Abbeville, Newberry and Shelby, N.C.

In fact, Carnley is quick to cite studies done by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and the non-profit Americans for the Arts which suggest that the attendee of an art and culture event is likely to spend more than $32 over and above the admission price at local establishments for food. Those studies also suggest that if the patron stays overnight, the total goes up to $170 over and above the price of the admission ticket.

It is the travel and tourism that Gaffney hopes to tap into. With two Revolutionary War national parks nearby, a performing arts center is something they feel is an easy fit to add culture and, more importantly, economic development to the northern section of the Upstate.

“We think we need it or it would not have been approved,” Taylor said. “It is a key component to our downtown development strategy. We have looked at what other towns have done and some have used a performing arts center as a catalyst for development.”

A new performing arts center in downtown Gaffney would be, what Taylor called, one of many pieces in the city’s downtown development efforts. Cherokee County recently built a new administration building downtown.

“There have been two major public investments downtown,” Taylor said. “We also restored the 1913 federal building that was a post office and turned it into a visitor’s center and art gallery and that is downtown, so the theater is just one component to developing downtown.”

Taylor added that the city has not put a hard deadline for Carnley to raise the money, but “there will come a point when we have to ask if it was realistic that the money would come in.”

The reason for the $5 million price tag is because the building that was intended to be used for the new center – the former Browns Furniture building – was in a case of disrepair and Carnley said it would have cost more to fix it than it would to tear it down and start over.

The building was donated and the city has every intention to build a performing arts center on the now vacant pad.

“That was when we decided to look at doing something to really develop our downtown,” Carnley said. “But the building was so dilapidated and that is what we have decided to do.”

In fact, Craig Gaulden Davis of Greenville has already designed a building, the issue now is raising the money.

One note regarding the funding is the $3 million in revenue bonds will be paid back using hospitality tax dollars the city of Gaffney gets from the state. Carnley said it is important because it means no public tax dollars will be used for the building.

“We don’t want to use tax money and that is what we are telling people,” Carnley said. “The thing here is getting the essential buy-in and that is what we want people to embrace.”

Carnley said she believes the campaign has a good chance to be successful. She did not disclose how much had been raised to date, but said the next step is to apply to local foundations and grant programs to obtain funding.

“We think we are going to make this because we have pushed this out to foundations that try to help arts, education and communities and that is who we have targeted,” Carnley said. “All we can do is plead our case and ask.”

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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