Plans that fizzled in 2014, geared toward improving the cultural and commercial landscape in downtown Zebulon, are back in motion.
Local real estate agent Dallas Pearce for years has tried unsuccessfully to bring an arts center to eastern Wake County. It appears he and others who share a common vision have finally found a way.
“We’re just moments away from finishing up our (nonprofit) status,” Pearce said last week. “We’re excited about it.”
Local attorney Mike Weeks filed for that status for the Zebulon Arts Council in November, 2015. Since that time, a board of directors composed of Pearce, Bruce Behrendt, Glenn Lewis, Jenny Privette, Nelle Carroll, Charles Estes, Taurian Parham, Debbie Driver, Sam Hayes and Les Merritt has been established. It meets monthly and is seeking to fill two more seats.
A boon for what has been labeled the Zebulon Downtown Arts Center came when Brian Bullock offered use of his property at 100 E. Vance St. free of rent for five years, under the condition that the building be renovated to meet the specifications of an arts center.
The corner lot was most recently home to AV Tech, an audio/video sales and service shop that opened there in 2011 and still marks the storefront’s windows.
“In five years, we will pay whatever the market rent for that space is at that time,” Pearce said.
Location proved to be an obstacle two years ago, when Pearce, Mark Cronk, Blake Lewis and Glenn Lewis tried to purchase Zebulon’s former Town Hall at 100 N. Arendell Ave.
The investors wanted a $55,000 relief from the town’s $145,000 asking price to offset the cost of turning the property into a state-of-the-art facility, but town leaders had already lowered their asking price twice, starting from $259,000. They said upfit costs were already considered when the town lowered the price a final time.
Commissioners cited a promise they made to taxpayers to sell the properties Zebulon vacated in 2009 and use proceeds to help pay off the bond for the purchase and renovation of the new town facilities. They also expressed concerns that the investors were not yet organized enough and that selling the property at such a reduced price would negatively affect surrounding property values.
“(Town leaders) just had too much of an interest in the process, whereas now Brian (Bullock) came up after that deal went south and said he had a building and would be patient with the deal,” Pearce said.
Pearce has a history with the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County from previous efforts to locate an arts center in Wendell. The four investors even explored the possibility of using Knightdale’s historic Watson House after the more recent plans fell through in Zebulon.
But Pearce really wanted an arts center to develop in downtown Zebulon, where he recently moved his business.
“I would like to see it here, first and foremost, because this is where I’m from,” he said. “I did talk to Knightdale about where we were and what we’d done. But if we’re going to have a regional arts center, it needs to be somewhere in Wendell or Zebulon in my opinion – a little farther away from Raleigh where they have such a big arts center.”
A website and Facebook page launched in April for the Zebulon Downtown Arts Center, or ZDAC – following the abbreviated style that has become popular among local arts venues. A graphic rendering of what the space could become and proposed ZDAC logos are posted on the sites, seeking public feedback.
The website indicates the UAC’s commitment to bring programming to the Zebulon site. Pearce said UAC leaders have reviewed a proposed floor plan for the space and are generally pleased. He said a more formal meeting will come once the Zebulon group starts generating revenue from donations, which it has not yet started soliciting.
The website also says a great deal of community support and participation will be needed for the ZDAC to succeed in its mission “to stimulate economic development and community involvement while providing arts and cultural experiences for children, youth, and adult residents and potential residents.”
Eleanor Oakley, president of the UAC, said her group can provide a part-time staffer to operate the ZDAC for a year or two, but that the onus of renovating and maintaining the facility is on the local arts council. Organizers estimate it will cost about $200,000 to get Bullock’s property arts center ready.
“They are going to have to rally the citizens,” Oakley said. “We’re delighted for Zebulon. It’s a part of the county that could really benefit from an arts center. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and jump into something, and we just hope the people of Zebulon will really get into that.”
Like community centers and parks, Oakley said arts centers are part of the natural progression as towns grow to a certain population.
She expects the location on the eastern edge of the county will give the ZDAC a unique draw, extending into other nearby communities.
“At a certain point, it’s usually something citizens want closer to home where they can take their children for after-school and weekend classes and camps in arts, and it’s a gathering place,” Oakley said. “You create a community space.”
An ideal timeline, Pearce said, would be to have nonprofit status approved within a month so fundraising can begin. He hopes to see renovation work start within the next six to 12 months.