By David Meade
During their meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council unanimously approved a proclamation supporting a cultural arts center that could be based in the recently acquired National Guard Armory building.
The arts center and a planned park expansion, could be cornerstone pieces of a bigger puzzle that is being put in place for economic development and revitalization of the Town of Williamston.
Prior to the vote, Council heard a presentation by Fountain Inn Economic Development Director Van Broad on how cultural arts programs and events have led to economic development in Fountain Inn.
Broad said that six years ago sixty percent of Fountain Inn’s downtown buildings were vacant and very few people came downtown.
With the establishment of performing cultural arts which draws people in, the town now has a ninety five percent occupancy rate and has from 500 to 2000 people, or more visit the downtown area on a weekend, Broad said.
With the support of the town and people who come to their programs, they have renovated an old school building which now houses a variety of performing arts programs and events.
They also established a Friday night music program for the “young” crowd and bluegrass on Saturday night for the “older” crowd, Broad said.
Nationally known portrait artist, Michael Del Priore, Fork Shoals, also offered words of encouragement and support for visual and performing arts in the area.
Del Priore has portraits which can be found in state capitols, state supreme courts, universities, boardrooms and private collections.
He said that the armory building which he described as “magnificent, beautiful building” was very receptive to visual arts with a main hall where art could be displayed and sold and individual spaces that could be used as a studio by local artists.
“It could be a major, major puller to why people will come here and live here,” he said. “Cultural arts will always bring a city to the front.”
Local artist and teacher Thomas Addison said he thinks there is a demand and local artists and the community will support and use an arts center.
Mayor Durham said there is support in the community for the arts and that an arts center can help Williamston become a destination town.
The mayor also presented information on a park expansion plan which he said is just in the discussion stage.
The new master plan includes changes and expansion of Mineral Spring Park, addition of trail connections in the park system and surrounding areas and possible a new residential area, all in the vicinity of the proposed arts center at the armory and the downtown park and recreation area.
The plan could incorporate a single family residential development with 71 lots, all with a trail connection, he said. There was also mention of using the old depot for a farmers market.