Despite the rapid growth of Lexington County over the past few years, the county has a shortage of venues for meetings, conferences, corporate retreats, reunions and weddings. Moreover, the county lacks a venue for showcasing local art, crafts and smaller musical events. This may soon change if a proposal by Lexington County Councilmen Johnny Jeffcoat and Ned Tolar and a group of lawyers and business leaders to convert the Old Lexington Courthouse into an Arts and Events Center comes to fruition.
Supporters of the plan envision a Lexington County performing arts and events center modeled after the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, N.C. and a similar arts and conference facility located in Greenwood, S.C. The Earl Scruggs Center is named after renowned banjo player and Shelby native Earl Scruggs, and is housed in Shelby’s historic Cleveland County Courthouse. It features a history of the region, an interactive music exhibit, and space for traveling art exhibits.
That facility, as well as the Greenwood facility, which is located in a former post office and courthouse, is also rented for community meetings, corporate retreats, church services, weddings and private parties.
Organizers in Lexington envision a similar facility created from the Old Lexington County Courthouse that would make downtown Lexington a destination point and complement the new amphitheater being built on Main Street. Unlike the amphitheater, the Arts and Events Center would provide meeting and event space, showcase local art, and contain exhibits celebrating Lexington County’s history, including an exhibit about the history of the old courthouse and the significant legal events that occurred within its walls.
New businesses have sprung up in downtown Shelby since the Earl Scruggs Center’s opening in early 2014, and former Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre predicts the same thing would happen in Lexington. Tolar agrees, noting that industry leaders considering a move to Lexington County look for quality-of-life amenities like this for their employees. “This would provide economic stimulus to the area … It will be a boom to the county,” he said. “In Shelby, they’ll never be able to measure the value of their center.” Other political leaders agree. In a letter to County Council, County Veterans Services Officer Ed Lundeen expressed support for the project, noting, “This would be a harbinger for many folks and make Lexington a destination, rather than a place to avoid because of all the traffic. It will stimulate interest in our town the same way Newberry, Sumter and Abbeville Opera Houses do. These are great venues for all sorts of arts, crafts and culture and our children and grandchildren deserve this.”
Councilman Tolar says necessary renovations to the courthouse would likely cost between $4 million and $5 million, although the center could open with just some initial renovations totaling around $1 million to $2 million. Scott Adams, an advisor to the planning group, says Lexington’s Arts and Events Center would be self-sustaining from rental fees, admission prices, hospitality tax dollars and corporate sponsors. Adams notes that wedding planners, corporate events planners, and growing civic and business clubs have expressed an interest in using the center for their events. Adams says that the present proposal calls for the county to retain ownership of the courthouse, with a private foundation responsible for raising funds for renovations, and an advisory group coordinating, scheduling, and managing events and exhibits. This “public-private partnership” would relieve taxpayers of the costs to maintain the 1940’s-era structure while stimulating revenue and economic development in the downtown Lexington area. “It’s a win-win situation for all” Adams says.
Look for updates on this important project in future editions of the Midlands Anchor.