Waynesboro: Moving forward with the Wayne

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

The Wayne Theatre project seems to have cleared what had appeared to be a substantial political hurdle.

“This is an important occasion that marks the beginning of hard work and determination coming to fruition. The Wayne Theatre has become an example of the effectiveness of public-private relationships and has been the catalyst for countless examples of volunteerism. As a privately-run theater, the Wayne will serve as an example to other private enterprises looking to invest their dollars into Downtown Waynesboro,” said Mayor Tim Williams at what was billed as a groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation work on the 1926 downtown theatre on Tuesday.

Williams was the keynote speaker at the ceremony – which is significant because of Williams’ place in the long-running Wayne Theatre debate. Seen as a supporter of the public-private partnership involving the city and the Wayne Theatre Alliance when elected to city council in 2004, Williams shifted his allegiances hours before a scheduled key vote involving the project in 2005, setting the course for the Wayne to become the hot-button issue in the 2006 and 2008 city elections.

The outcome of the ’08 spring elections, which saw Williams and fellow conservatives Frank Lucente and Bruce Allen swept into political power, had seemed to spell doom for the Wayne as Alliance leaders talked publicly about their doubts that the project could continue without public monies committed to the renovation by city council in 2006. Williams has reportedly been the focal point of a lobbying effort by Alliance supporters and their unlikely allies in the conservative camp that backed the new power troika in the spring aimed at getting him to soften his opposition to the use of public funds to support the project, and while he wasn’t signaling more than his basic support for the Wayne Theatre project at Tuesday’s groundbreaking, it is interesting, to say the least, that he was given the opportunity to be the first to speak to mark the occasion.

The work that will be beginning this week will focus at the outset on improvements to the Main Street-facing exterior of the building, including the facade and the entryway to the lobby. Alliance officials are saying that the work should be done by the first of the new year, and that the effort will mark an important first step toward showing the Waynesboro community what the project will do for Downtown Waynesboro.

“We think the Wayne, when it’s up and running, will be a catalyst for the continued renovation of our downtown, a huge part of our cultural and arts community downtown. I know it’s been a long time coming and a lot of work, but I’ve seen it happen in other communities, and I know it’s going to be successful,” said Kimberly Watters, the executive director of Waynesboro Downtown Development Inc.

“If you study economic development, and you study downtown areas in communities our size, you’ll find that there’s a lot of success stories out there related to theatres like this that have been restored and brought all kinds of programs to the local communities,” said Carl Rosberg, the executive director of a downtown neighbor, Ntelos, and a member of the Waynesboro Economic Development Authority.

“This is about ownership of our community, and this is about what this group of folks in this room have accomplished. It is about really beginning to understand what revitalizing our downtown and revitalizing Waynesboro is all about, and starting to redefine and put Waynesboro on the map,” Waynesboro City Councilwoman Lorie Smith said.

“I am so proud of the Wayne Theatre Alliance, and I am proud to be a part of the council that has vested in the vision for the Wayne Theatre. We all want to see this come to fruition in a very successful manner. We want to join you in that effort. I think this community is going to get a tremendous surprise when this building is finished,” Smith said.

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