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RICHMOND — One of the Twin Counties’ most prominent musicians may soon lend his name to a music school and economic development effort in Marion.
Wayne Henderson of Grayson County is already the subject of the book “Clapton’s Guitar,” organizer of an annual music festival at Grayson Highlands State Park, a renowned luthier and an ambassador of mountain musical traditions. Now, the Appalachian guitarist’s name will appear on the marquee of a revitalization project in the Smyth County town.
The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Music and Arts is how the project is described in a grant request submitted to the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
Marion officials have partnered with Appalachian Heritage Schools Inc. to restore a 1908 school in the middle of its historic downtown into a lively arts and tourism attraction.
The idea being carried out by the same individuals who successfully renovated the General Francis Marion Hotel won favor from tobacco commission staff, who have recommended granting $145,000 of the $150,000 request for fiscal year 2012.
The mission of the school of music fits in well with the many other efforts to make the region a cultural heritage destination, staff wrote in their recommendation.
“The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Music and Arts will be an economic development engine that synergizes and supports other related efforts in the region, while providing its own unique offerings,” according to the application.
As the name implies, the school will offer classes, workshops and seminars based on Appalachian culture, arts, crafts and music.
Monies from the tobacco commission, if granted, would combine with support from the Virginia Industrial Revitalization Fund, the Appalachian Regional Commission and historic tax credits that arise from renovation of the building. Organizers have said they will use the tobacco commission funds to buy equipment and furnishings, market the school and pay staff salaries for the first six months of operation.
Revitalizing the four-story, 22,376-square-foot school will “make it a natural cornerstone for the ongoing renaissance of Historic Downtown Marion,” the application says. Other than changes to bring the facility up to building codes, organizers see the large classrooms, auditorium and stage retaining much of their original character.
Applicants' goals for the project include preserving music and arts heritage and complimenting other such efforts in the region, including the showcase of mountain crafts in Abingdon known as Heartwood, music heritage trail The Crooked Road, ‘Round the Mountain arts organization and the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax.
The new school’s classes focus on instrument instruction, traditional dance, stage performance and presence, audio and video production, instrument making, wood turning and crafts, fiber arts and craft foods.
Faculty will include “world famous musicians and artisans” guitar luthier Wayne Henderson and mandolin luthier Gerald Anderson, also of Grayson County.
The one-week courses and other activities may attract 7,500 new visitors to the area a year, organizers estimate. A visitor would spend $150 a day and stay for an average of two days, based on a Virginia Tech travel expenditure survey and impact study. That could bring in $700,000 more in spending to the area.
“The school is expected to generate $644,000 in direct revenue from tuition fees in the first three years,” the application says.
The music school’s funding request is a modest one, and staff expects that investment to pay off.
Aware that the school has applied for non-profit status from the IRS, staff recommended the tobacco commission grant the school $145,000 on the contingency that it gets the non-profit designation.
Konnarock Retreat House
After several prior tries in getting grant funds, the Konnarock Retreat House rehabilitation and reuse earned a positive recommendation in the same tobacco commission staff report.
Staff signed off on the entire $173,500 request to go towards an adaptive reuse of the former Konnarock Training School, which is listed on national and state historic register, as the application notes.
Applicants expect a sympathetic renovation of the 17,240-foot-building for a variety of uses will greatly add to economic growth in the area.
This will further previous exterior renovation carried out with tobacco commission funds as well as private and labor donations.
Other funds from the Appalachian Regional Commission are going to a master business plan that will include a market assessment, funding, operations and more.
Commission Rejects Business Loans
Both of these tobacco commission applicants fared better than the $99,000 request from Mount Rogers Planning District Commission for a small business loan program of up to $25,000 for startups.
Given that the tobacco commission has already given a total of $325,000 to Mount Rogers and that the $99,000 would probably only create 16 jobs, the staff recommended no award.
Not all 21 proposals under consideration could receive grants, as total requests topped $8.2 million while the commission had about $1.87 million available.
The Southwest Economic Development Committee met on Sept. 13, and, in turn, approved sending the music school and Konnarock Retreat House on to the full tobacco commission for consideration.