Officials discuss plans for Columbiana arts center, park

COLUMBIANA – The city of Columbiana, Shelby County and Shelby County Arts Council are in the early stages of planning a project that could become an “arts hub” for south Shelby County.

The Shelby County Commission held a work session following its Dec. 12 meeting where Columbiana Mayor Stancil Handley and Arts Council Executive Director Bruce Andrews presented initial plans for Old Mill Square, an arts center, events pavilion and park to be located between Walton Street and Mill Street in Columbiana at the former Summer Classics site.

Handley said Columbiana is financially prepared to proceed with the first phase of the project, while County Manager Alex Dudchock told commissioners he is confident the project meets the requirements of a 2007 contract between the county and city under which the entities split the $525,000 cost of purchasing the five-acre parcel of property.

Next, the county would contribute $1 million toward the project. A vote has not yet been scheduled.

The cost of the first phase of the project would be about $5.3 million, while the final cost would be about $9.8 million plus design and administration fees, all of which would be covered by the city other than the county’s $1 million contribution.

The Shelby County Arts Council will spend about $350,000 toward the construction of the arts center.

Handley said the city would seek grants to help cover the cost of the work remaining after the completion of Phase I, but he assured commissioners that Columbiana would finish the project.

According to the original contract for purchase of the property, from January 2007, the city is obligated to develop at the site a campus for the Academy of Fine Arts of Shelby, a park or outdoor theatre/amphitheatre and associated amenities and parking sufficient to support the proposed uses.

Other development opportunities mentioned in the contract were a farmer’s market, residential and commercial/retail options and additional parking for county government.

“I feel comfortable telling the County Commission that this meets the general requirements of that 2007 contract,” Dudchock said, while Handley said the city is ready to move forward with the project after years of inactivity.

“It’s time to do something,” Handley said.

Handley said the Columbiana City Council has moved to spend $1 million in funds on hand, and that financing is available for the remainder of the Phase I work.

Columbiana has relieved existing debt over the past four years, Handley said, and so new financing could be obtained without the city having to spend any more on debt service than it previously has.

Also, the city is collecting an additional $300,000 a year from a recent 1-cent sales tax increase, which will allow for maintenance of the property.

“The city of Columbiana will build this building,” Handley said. “We have the means to do so. My council is behind this 100 percent. They love the idea.”

Officials at the work session, which included about 25 people including commissioners, said the plan would be to have a bid opening for the project in Fiscal Year 2017.

Phase I of the project would include the park, which will feature an informal play/seating area, picnic tables, splash pad/fountain and parking for 136 vehicles; a center for the arts with office space, gallery, black box theatre, kiln room, ceramics studio, painting studio and exterior foundry arts room; and an open-air pavilion.

The arts center will encompass about 14,000 square feet, there will be about 4,000 square feet of common space and the pavilion will cover about 12,000 square feet.

Officials plan for the pavilion to eventually be walled in and amenities, such as concession areas and galleries, added.

Commissioners questioned how the pavilion will look after the completion of Phase I.

Handley said the pavilion would be usable for some events, such as farmers markets, while Dudchock told commissioners to think of the unfinished facility as an exhibit hall.

Bruce Andrews with the Arts Council told those in attendance at the work session that the facility could turn into an “arts hub” for South Shelby County.

Andrews said the Council’s earned income opportunities are limited by the space at its current location at 104 Mildred Street in Columbiana, while the planned arts center would allow for additional initiatives as well as exhibits of “national quality.”

“I feel like the Arts Council has been the centerpiece of a truly collaborative effort,” Andrews said. “By the time this comes into existence, we’ll already have the resources, in terms of artisans, to fill the space. I hope you’ll not only be supportive but inspired.”