To the Editor, Independent Messenger:
This letter is written in response to comments by Mickey Garcia, Garcia Development in a recent article in the Independent Messenger.
The Civic Center Foundation conducted a Capital Campaign in 2008 with the dream of renovating the 1933 Emporia Elementary School Auditorium and the 1953 hallway, cafeteria and kitchen additions. Paige Pollard, an historical tax credit specialists/consultant, suggested we look into saving the school classrooms for apartments. She had worked with several developers who took old structures and restored them into apartments and/or mixed use facilities. Developers of historic buildings use federal and state historical tax credits for restoration and therefore, can recoup up to forty-five percent of construction cost. The Foundation board pursued Pollard’s suggestion. She recommended five developers who were interviewed in March, 2009. Chris Dillon, developer of the Lucky Strike Building in Richmond, decided against a proposal for the project. A developer, who is big into developing Old Town Petersburg, offered his service as project manager. Three developers, Echelon Resources, Garcia Development and Rockville Development, all were interested in the project. The board chose Andy McCullough with Rockville Development. We went to Portsmouth and toured a project where he was developing 70 apartments. We had dinner in his restaurant which was part of the mixed use project. McCullough and his architect came to Emporia and gave a presentation to the council, board and others. His plan was exciting until we received his proposal which required the Foundation to lease the auditorium complex for $60,000 annually for 40 years. The proposal was rejected by the board.
The City of Emporia took title to the school property in 2011. They later contacted the same developer, McCullough, who still had an interest in redevelopment of the property. The Foundation met with the city officials and McCullough. He presented a more attractive plan to the Foundation. We looked forward to pursuing this plan further. However, we learned in September, 2011 that his company was having financial problems and that ended this plan.
In February, 2012 I was contacted by City Manager Thrower regarding our interest in working with Mickey Garcia, Garcia Development, (previously interviewed by the Foundation) on the school project. (We had not communicated with him since the interview in 2009.) He had been our number two choice so we were interested in hearing his ideas. At the next meeting with City Manager Thrower, we were informed Garcia had to have the entire school structure with the exception of the auditorium! Garcia was going to put apartments in the kitchen and cafeteria! They were willing to make all improvements to the exterior of the auditorium
During the last eleven years, the Foundation has anticipated saving the auditorium as a theater for plays, movies, etc. and saving the cafeteria and hallway for social gatherings and the kitchen for catering support. Accepting the Garcia plan would mean death to our dream and would not be cost effective for the community.
In spite of our differences, we met with City Manager Thrower, Assistant City Manager Hall, and Garcia. We explained our position that we needed space to be successful. The auditorium alone would not provide necessary income for success. He listened to our needs: One — the entire 3150 sq. ft. cafeteria; Two — space to move between the cafeteria and auditorium; Three — sufficient kitchen space for caterer to operate; and, Four — space for restrooms.
Garcia stated in the news article we wanted an expensive sound system and expansive lighting system installed. This is an absolute untruth. Prior to the RFP’s going out to developers in 2009, Paige Pollard asked that we include in developer’s package a wish list, (everything we hoped to have in our dream). That was several years ago. Garcia does not remember our recent conversation well but he does well at retaining old documents that are not relevant!
Following our meeting the developer emailed City Manager Thrower nine proposed lease terms the Foundation needed to accept in order to move forward. One of the terms was the Foundation would be given 2500 sq. ft. abutting the auditorium somewhere but they were not sure of the exact location. Success was not possible with Garcia’s proposal. The board rejected the proposal and our attorney was in full agreement with the decision. I informed the City Council on May 2nd of the Foundation’s decision.
I must address other comments by Garcia as stated in the news article. He stated he has been in consultation with the Foundation during the last three to four years. He has never been in consultation with the Foundation. We have not spoken to him since the interview until March, 2012. I have no idea what he means when he said he was characterized at the Council meeting as having strong armed the Civic Center into accepting less than we wanted. The Foundation never accepted any part of his plan. He also stated he gave us exactly what we ask for except a blank check!
To the community and all supporters, we urge your continued support. The time to contribute monitarilly to save the grand ole structure is NOW. Once it comes down, like the Pitts Theater, it will only be a memory. If you signed a commitment, please continue your pledge. If you want to be a part of saving history, please send your check to Civic Center Foundation, P. O. Box 268, Emporia, VA 23847 or call 348-0018. Ideally, somewhere in our community there is a champion who will come forth and help us save the auditorium complex.
The Civic Center Foundation has been good stewards of the capital campaign funds. None of those funds have been expended. In the event the structure cannot be saved, all donations will be returned simultaneously.
Mary T. Woodruff
President, Emporia-Greensville Civic Center Foundation