A grassroots organization is asking Southport city leaders to let it take the lead to renovate and put to good use the historic City Hall and former Brunswick County Courthouse, which has been largely abandoned for more than four years.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the circa 1844 structure at Davis and East Moore streets has a classic Victorian look and framed by plenty of Southport’s signature live oaks. It served as the county’s second courthouse until 1978, when functions were moved to Bolivia.
The city relocated offices from the aging, unsafe structure in 2014 and left the building to the Police Department, which moved out two years later. Although Southport put a new roof on the building, the city has yet to remediate mold, lead paint and other interior issues.
The city hasn’t budgeted money for repairs and overtures by potential private developers haven’t yielded solid plans. It’s an icon of the historic district, directly across the street from waterfront Fort Johnston and the N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport.
A local non-profit called Up Your Arts (UYA) is proposing to use a capital campaign, grants and program funds to repair and renovate the building into a center for working artists, performances, a gallery and public meeting spaces.
“We have developed a plan to restore the building as an arts-focused community center with a variety of sustaining uses, open to an operating on behalf of city residents and visitors at no cost to taxpayers,” the UYA stated in a white paper to city officials.
UYA board member Bonnie Bray said towns such as Hendersonville, Carrboro and Kinston had used similar models to establish thriving arts centers that enhance other businesses and the quality of life.
The vision is to have a gallery along the main hall downstairs, along with working studios for artists. The large hall upstairs, which already has good acoustics, would be a space for public meetings and performances. The plan would also include an arts instruction space for Brunswick Community College and a gift shop.
UYA proposes paying for renovations and leasing out spaces to make the building self-sustaining, like a similar arrangement with Associated Artists of Southport, which manages the nearby Franklin Square Gallery. Once work is complete, an arts center foundation would take over control of programming.
UYA estimates it will take 2-1/2 years to complete the renovations and are looking for public support.
John Keiffer, another board member and Bray’s husband, has dubbed the effort “Save the Hall, Y’all.”