Hayes Center closes
None of the people who witnessed the stirring concerts by the King Bees and John Cowan during Blowing Rock’s WinterFest two weeks ago realized that they were seeing the final performances in the Blowing Rock Cultural Arts Center, more commonly known as the Robert and Mariam Hayes Performing Arts Center.
On Thursday, Feb. 9, Lee Layton sent out a press release stating that possession of the building and property had reverted to Wells Fargo Bank.
“It’s with great sadness on behalf of the board of trustees we announce the closing of the Blowing Rock Cultural Arts Center, effective immediately,” Ron Bryson said in the press release. “First and foremost, we wish to thank the hundreds of donors and supporters who, over more than a decade, gave of their time, talents and financial resources to make the vision a reality for a performing arts center in Blowing Rock.
“It was an extraordinary effort that became a reality only because of the dedication of many people. The Blowing Rock Cultural Art Center enjoyed both triumphs and failures over the years, but we can be proud we enjoyed many more triumphs. Thousands of people have experienced the arts in a unique way because of the Blowing Rock Cultural Arts Center and its supporters.”
After first being proposed in 2000, the Hayes Performing Arts Center broke ground in 2005 and opened in August 2006. It featured a 348-seat auditorium, a smaller “theater-in-the-round,” dressing rooms, meeting and rehearsal rooms, a kitchenette, offices and other amenities. It reportedly cost $9.6 million to build.
For its first three years of operation, it was home to the Blowing Rock Stage Company. The BRSC used the facility for production of its summer, fall and holiday productions, and also maintained office space in the building.
During its tenure at the Hayes Center, the Blowing Rock Stage Company produced numerous successful and sold-out productions, including the world premieres of playwright Bob Inman’s “Dairy Queen Days” and “Welcome to Mitford.”
In 2009, the Hayes Center temporarily suspended operations to restructure after experiencing a significant decline in income, from both donors and ticket sales. At that time, the Hayes Center parted ways with the Blowing Rock Stage Company and its personnel, although the center and its board continued to maintain ownership of the BRSC.
Since 2009, the center has hosted a handful of events, many of them associated with Blowing Rock’s WinterFest and the annual Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival.
In 2011, the Hayes Center board formed a repositioning team with an arts consultant and hired Todd Morgan as its managing director and scheduled a number of weekend productions for a season that ran from June to October.
The Feb. 9 press release about the closure stated that Bryson said it was important to the board to keep the Blowing Rock Cultural Arts Center open the past few years so that as many local vendors as possible could be paid.
“We saw the effects of the struggling economy begin to take a serious toll on the center in 2009, as donations had been greatly declining,” Bryson said. “Our priority has always been to our local community, so we explored every option and worked hard to stay open. Volunteers came forward to serve on repositioning teams, and others donated their professional services to help the center return, and we are thankful for the time and effort of these individuals.
“Everyone wanted the center to succeed. But we also knew if we had to close, we wanted to do it in a way that would lessen the impact on the local economy.”
According to a board member who did not wish to be named, the board negotiated with a number of potential buyers during the past year with the hope that they could lease it from the buyer and continue to operate the building. But due to complications related to the mortgage being insured by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and the economic environment, negotiations were unsuccessful.
The Feb. 9 press release added, “Pursuant to its claims secured by the building and other assets of the center, Wells Fargo Bank N.A. will assume control of the property.”
Added Bryson, “We believe the center’s spirit of enriching lives through the arts will continue and that the community will embrace and expand the arts — and that’s a legacy to be proud of.”