By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Pride of Atmore, the group initially formed to restore the Strand Theatre and now the leading force behind the city’s downtown revitalization effort, recently accomplished one of its primary goals with the purchase of the building in which Atmore Hardware did business for decades.
Details of the transaction were not readily available, but POA Executive Director Foster Kizer said this week that acquisition of the Main Street store building, which stands adjacent to the theater, removes one of the barriers to continuance of the group’s direct participation in the downtown rehab project.
“That’s been one of our goals from the start,” Kizer said. “We received a grant to purchase the building, but due to a variety of circumstances beyond our control, there were some delays. We made an offer, it was accepted and we had the closing on December 29, so it’s finally ours. We have free title, with no mortgage, so we’re very happy about that.”
But, he pointed out, that means POA members and volunteers will have to step up their fundraising effort to complete the long-term goal for the building.
“It’s a five-year project,” said Kizer. “Right now, we’re trying to launch a capital campaign to see if we can solicit some large donations. Plus, we’re continuously writing grants, and we have contributions coming in.”
The POA executive director said the organization received a $2,000 donation just last week.
“That might not seem like a lot,” he said. “But if you get a lot of $2,000 donations, it starts to add up. We’re starting to implement our timetable to get the ball rolling. But you can’t do anything without money.”
Kizer explained that plans are to convert the hardware building into a multi-purpose entertainment and arts center.
“It’s basically designed, for lack of a better term, as a community center,” he said. “On the second floor there will be a recording studio, a dance studio and a resident artist’s apartment. We hope to get different artists to stay there, say, six months at a time, as long as they are teaching a particular art or craft, whether it be painting, dance, drawing, ceramics, woodworking or something else.
“Downstairs will be an entertainment venue, with a small stage, a concession stand and restrooms, as well as a patio in the back with a separate entrance. That way, if a concert or something is going on downstairs, the younger people can still get upstairs for any classes they might have.”
Kizer noted that POA could use some help in its endeavor and urged any willing group or individual to call him at 251-368-8722 to make their intentions known.
“We’re always looking for volunteers to help us with fundraising or to help keep the buildings up, keep them from falling into further disrepair and becoming worse than they are. We can always use volunteers, and we could certainly use some donations.”
He said a Pensacola architectural firm has been retained to draw blueprints for the theater and the anticipated community center. But, he added, that takes money, too.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity, but it’s a very big project, money-wise,” he said. “We have determined that we can do it with grants and donations. It will cost $59,000 for the architects, and we’ve already got about half of that. We’re getting there.”