Samaritan's Purse Closes Purchase of Former Hayes Center in Blowing Rock
By David Rogers. September 19, 2012. BLOWING ROCK -- A new chapter in the life of the building at 152 Jamie Fort Road in Blowing Rock began today, as Wells Fargo Bank handed over the keys, deed and title on Wednesday to the Boone faith-based, international relief organization, Samaritan's Purse. Blowing Rock News confirmed the transaction's closing today with the Watauga County Register of Deeds.
Finishing the Opening Chapter
The Franklin Graham-led Samaritan's Purse won the right to purchase the former Robert and Mariam Cannon Hayes Performing Arts Center in late August, making an 11th hour upset bid at public auction in the amount of $1.493 million, the minimum advance over the only bid (by Wells Fargo) at the public auction on the proverbial courthouse steps on August 21st.
Wells Fargo, which financed the mortgage on what was also known as the Blowing Rock Performing Arts Center, had earlier foreclosed on the previous owner, the Blowing Rock Community Arts Foundation.
The Hayes Center originaly broke ground in 2005 and opened its doors in 2006 as the permanent home of the professional theatre company, The Blowing Rock Stage Company, which operated for almost 25 years in Blowing Rock and was roundly praised for its entertaining "summer stock" productions. Previously, it operated in the Blowing Rock School Auditorium.
Shortly after the Hayes Center was completed, the Community Arts Foundation and Blowing Rock Stage Company merged, with the Stage Company operating under the Arts Foundation banner and as the primary tenant of the building.
Unfortunately, rising construction costs, then the economic downturn, and what some have called management missteps combined to take their toll on the cost of the building vs. paying for it. A primary culprit: the necessary assumption of a burdensome mortgage when construction costs skyrocketed almost overnight at the peak of the nation's real estate boom. In addition, generally high operating expenses and diminished patron giving and corporate sponsorship in the 2007-2008 economic bust that followed the 2004-2006 boom effectively offset the critical and box office successes of Blowing Rock Stage Company.
...promises to have a profoundly positive impact on Blowing Rock.
A review of the minutes from the May 5, 2008 special meeting of the Town's Board of Commissioners to specifically hear a presentation from the Commuity Arts Foundation board and management, reveals the latter's claim to have raised more than $10.2 million from more than 650 donors, and that the building costs almost doubled original estimates of $5 million, to $9.1 million. Presumably, because of the historic economic downturn and downspiraling stock market, a significant portion of the stated $10.2 million was in pledges and rendered uncollectible by the economic travails
In asking for Town support for the facility of $100,000 to $150,000 per year, Community Arts Foundation and Stage Company officials outlined the profound economic impact of the Hayes Center and Stage Company, and its asset as community service resource. Blowing Rock News confirmed today with Town Manager Scott Hildebran that the Board of Commissioners turned down the request, with the general sentiment being that if the residents of Blowing Rock wanted to freely donate to the Community Arts Foundation they could, privately, but to use funds from the municipal budget, and prospectively raising taxes to do so, is actually forcing an individual taxpayer to support a cause that they do not wish to support.
BRSC operations were abandoned by the Community Arts Foundation after the 2009 season. Attempts by the Foundation to re-open the facility with a different kind of entertainment calendar was met with only lukewarm response at the box office. Unable to pay for itself or attract substantial arts donors, the facility went permanently dark in 2011.
During the Blowing Rock Stage Company heyday and during construction of the new building, the Community Arts Foundation was successful in lobbying for an 80% mortgage guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture under a rural economic development program, effectively blunting much of the financing risk assumed by Wells Fargo for the roughly $4.2 million mortgage, according to Blowing Rock News' review of court records. It also appears that there was an upper limit to the USDA guarantee of approximately $6.2 million. Blowing Rock News has received unconfirmed reports that the Community Arts Foundation paid Wells Fargo an estimated $1.1 million, mostly, if not all, in interest on the mortgage.
The New Chapter
With the building's up and down past now history, its acquisition by Samaritan's Purse promises to have a profoundly positive impact on Blowing Rock.
Like the previous owner, Blowing Rock Community Arts Foundation, Samaritan's Purse is a non-profit organization so exempt from paying property taxes. We are aware that other media reports have published inflammatory and misleading headlines about the Town of Blowing Rock and Watauga County missing out on more than $23,000 in annual property taxes, but those are revenues never realized by local and county governments from the previous owner, and those reports have missed the bigger story about the Samaritan's Purse organization's intended use for the facility.
In a statement released to Blowing Rock News earlier this week, the orgnaization stated, "Samaritan's Purse is grateful that our bid has been accepted to purchase the former Hayes Performing Arts Center in Blowing Rock. We have needed a facility for training, conferences, and meetings, and we were able to purchase this building -- which would meet those needs -- for significantly less than what it would cost to build (a new building.)"
The statement goes on to describe the Samaritan's Purse operations, now with nearly 500 employees based in its Boone global headquarters, and more than 2,000 across the United States and around the world. Also revealed: Samaritan's Purse has over 100,000 volunteers nationwide that play vital roles in projects such as Operation Christmas Child, U.S. Disaster Relief, and World Medical Mission. According to the statement, "Many staff and key volunteers come regularly to Boone for meetings and training."
Samaritan's Purse is a faith-based ministry "...to serve Christ through our worldwide relief and evangelism projects." According to the previously-mentioned statement, the newly repurposed Blowing Rock facility is looked at as an important asset in that ministry, and Samaritan's Purse also hopes "...to make it available to churches and other Christian organizations that work to share the Good News of Jesus Christ."
Samaritan's Purse has affiliate offices in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as field offices in 13 countries across Latin America, Africa and Asia; and partners in over 100 nations around the world. It is a good bet that many of the Samaritan's Purse volunteers and employees training in the organization's new Blowing Rock facility will find their way to nearby hotels, restaurants, retail shops, and attractions, infusing much more than $23,000 in never received annual property taxes into the local economy.
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