Residents in the Lexington area won’t have to travel to Columbia or other parts of the state to get their arts-and-culture fix if plans to repurpose the historic county courthouse receive community and financial support.
Leaders from the town and Lexington County, including County Councilmen Ned Tolar and Johnny Jeffcoat and Lexington Town Councilman Ron Williams, met Tuesday night to discuss ways to make the Lexington County Courthouse a destination spot.
Tolar presented a plan of action with Scott Adams of Adams Gyemant & Griffin Advisory Group and Tim Driggers, an attorney working in downtown Lexington. Their objective is to model a Lexington County performing arts center after the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, N.C.
The Earl Scruggs Center is named after banjo player and Cleveland County native Earl Scruggs and is housed in Shelby’s historic Cleveland County Courthouse. It features history of the region, an interactive music exhibit, space for traveling art exhibits and a full calendar of events for a small admission fee.
“This is something we don’t have here (Lexington) unless you go to downtown (Columbia),” Adams said.
The center also can be rented for events like community meetings, weddings and private parties.
Organizers in Lexington said they envision a public-private partnership for the county’s version of the Earl Scruggs Center. The county would retain ownership of the courthouse. A private foundation would raise funds for renovations, and an arts advisory group would manage events and exhibits. It also could be governed by a board of residents appointed by local government entities.
Potential exhibits would highlight Lake Murray, South Carolina agriculture, state music legends and the state’s official dance: the shag.
Tolar said necessary renovations to the courthouse would cost between $4 million and $5 million.
Adams said the Earl Scruggs Center has annual operating costs of about $400,000 and that it’s nearly self-sustaining from rental fees, admission prices, hospitality tax dollars and corporate sponsors.
“People come from all over to visit the center,” Adams said.
The “biggest hoop,” according to Jeffcoat, would be relocating the magistrates who have offices in the courthouse. Renovations also would have to adhere to regulations of the National Register of Historic Places since the courthouse was added to the list in recent months.
New businesses have sprung up in the downtown square of Shelby since the Earl Scruggs Center’s opening in early 2014. Greater Lexington Chamber CEO Randy Halfacre predicted the same thing would happen in Lexington.
“This would be the perfect compliment to the amphitheater down the street (being built by the town of Lexington),” Driggers said.
Tolar said industry leaders considering a move to Lexington County do look for quality-of-life amenities like this for their future 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.”
Organizers said Lexington’s center could be welcoming visitors in as few as three years. Driggers said the Earl Scruggs Center took about three years to complete but that the historic courthouse on Main Street in “way ahead” in terms of needed renovations.
“We believe the support is there,” Tolar said.
An arts center and an influx of visitors could be just the thing to bring about change to the area’s roads, too, according to proponents.
“It may stimulate finding a solution,” Adams said of traffic concerns.