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Goodbye yellow Moose tent?

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By April Wright, Reporter

The City of Galax is seeking funding to build a 20-by-28-foot permanent performance stage at Felts Park in Galax in 2010 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Galax Old Fiddlers' Convention.

At Monday's meeting, city council members voted to move forward in the planning for the $150,000 stage, and approved a request from the event's sponsor, the Galax Moose Lodge, to apply for funding.

However, concerns arose that the permanent stage might interfere with traditional events that take place in Felts Park.

“All I want to know is what's going to happen to the lawn mower race,” council member Sharon Plichta asked with a laugh, referring to the annual July 4 race and demolition derby put on by the Galax Volunteer Fire Department.

“This is something that we've taken into consideration,” assured Assistant City Manager Keith Barker. “We plan to do a complete layout of the stage and where these events are located and put the stage the furthest point out to not interfere.”

The stage is expected to sit slightly beyond where the convention's stage is normally positioned. However, the exact site will not be determined until a complete layout is developed and measurements are taken.

Barker said this is something that has been planned since the beginning of the year, after the city was approached by the Galax Moose Lodge.

In addition to serving the fiddlers' convention, the multi-functional stage would accommodate any number of events, such as Saturday night concerts and Galax Theatre Guild performances.

“This isn't just for the 75th anniversary of the fiddlers’ convention,” said Tom Jones, publicity chairman of the Galax Moose Lodge. “But we think it would be good for the community, for the park and civic groups and would accommodate professional bands. We have the whole community in mind.”

In designing the stage, the city would take into consideration such things as the Galax Theatre Guild having to move sets on and off the stage.

The stage will be made of a stone foundation with a wooden overlay. It would be framed with log siding and a metal roof to provide a rustic appearance. The interior would have the comforts of heating and air conditioning, and the preliminary design shows areas for dressing, warmup and sound-recording rooms. It would also include a private handicapped-accessible restroom.

“It seems like a pretty good idea, but we already have a big stage down there,” said councilman Bob Lazo. “Will it take away from the use of the [Blue Ridge] Music Center and The Rex [Theater]?”

“This will be an outdoor facility, and it will have the cover in case of rain,” said Barker. “It will be larger than the Rex area, but we don't see it as doing something on Friday to compete with the Rex.”

Lazo also asked about the convention's traditional yellow “circus tent,” saying that if the tent isn't used, it may take away from some of the convention's heritage.

Barker said the Moose Lodge is looking for a way to attach the tent to the building during the convention, but it will be an all-day process to do so.

Barker estimates that building the stage will cost $150,000 to $180,000, the design will cost nearly $25,000 and a sound system will cost approximately $50,000.

City staff met with representatives of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Rep. Rick Boucher's office, the Galax Moose Lodge and the Galax Fire Department on July 10 to discuss the possibility of applying for funding to assist in constructing the stage.

During that meeting, city staff learned of a funding opportunity through the Appalachian Regional Commission for up to $100,000 towards projects such as this. It would require the city to match the grant.

It is the same kind of grant that recently paid for the Wayne Henderson Festival stage at Grayson Highlands State Park.

Barker attended a workshop for the ARC grant and has met with Mouth Rogers Planning District Commission to get assistance in putting the grant application together.

“Until we found out about this funding, we were under the assumption that we would have to pay for this stage ourselves,” said Barker.

Additional federal funding is being sought through USDA Rural Development to help pay for the sound system. Barker said the agency also paid for the sound system for the Wayne Henderson stage.

The Galax Moose Lodge may also pay for a portion of the expenses. However, lodge members will not meet until Aug. 25.

Barker said 2010 is the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well.

As part of the celebration, there would be signage and notification along the parkway directing travelers to this stage, and the city would have signage at the stage directing visitors to the parkway, which provides a mutual benefit, said Barker.

The city is hoping that this stage will become one of the main venue stops along the Crooked Road. The fiddlers' convention is already one of the state heritage music trail's main attractions.

“Since they've built a stage for the Chautauqua Festival in Wytheville, they've really done a lot with the park, and it's added to the downtown,” council member John Garner pointed out.

The application for the $100,000 matching grant is due Sept. 24. Barker said the city will not find out if it has been awarded until December or early 2009.

An expected three- to five-month construction process would not begin until after the 2009 fiddlers' convention, so the work would not impede any activities held in the park.