by Joan Tupponce
In the past, South Hill Mayor Earl Horne would dodge questions from prospective companies about what the area had to offer in the way of performing arts venues. Not any more. The Jan. 22 opening of the renovated Colonial Center for Performing Arts has changed Horne’s sales pitch.
No one is more thrilled with the sellout crowds at the Colonial Center than Horne, who also serves as the center’s executive director.
Since its reopening, Colonial Center has hosted the Mrs. Virginia Pageant and Beatle Magic, a Beatles tribute band. Upcoming shows include Irish traditional and folk guitarist John Doyle and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. “We’re in the process of finalizing bookings with some huge names and huge tribute bands,” Horne says. “We’re booking into 2012 now.”
Colonial Theatre, as it was originally known, opened in 1925 as a vaudeville theater. The Colonial transitioned to a movie theater before closing in the mid-1970s. “During the 1940s and 1950s it had live shows with Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, and Gene Autry and his horse Champion,” Horne says.
Horne and the Community Development Association, an arm of the town, got involved with the renovation of the theater in 2001. “It didn’t have a roof,” he says. “My first goal was to get a roof on it.”
Renovation took 10 years. “In the beginning we put it out for bid to about five contractors; three left and said they weren’t wasting their time on it,” Horne says. “Now it’s one of the area’s gems, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Horne is pleased to report the Colonial Center has no debt. “When the project finished in 2011, it was over $4 million,” he says. “That was totally paid for through grants, a bond and donations.”
The mayor firmly believes the Colonial Center will boost the area’s economy. “This facility has closed the performing arts gap we had,” he says. “We can match cities like Richmond and Raleigh, N.C. It is helping us recruit industries not only for South Hill and Mecklenburg County but also for other counties.”
The shows that already have been staged helped local restaurant business. “It’s already affecting our economy,” he says. “It’s a big plus.”
Angie Kellett, director of economic development for Mecklenburg County, agrees that the Colonial Center will help attract industries, encourage downtown activity and bring vibrancy to the community. “It gives us the cultural arts piece we had been missing,” she says.
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