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A Greer Landmark Comes of Age

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The Horace McKown Center may fall short of having as many lives as a cat, but the 76-year-old building on Cannon St. can easily claim that it is only getting better with age.

Constructed in 1936 as the Greer National Guard Armory, the facility also served as a gymnasium for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department prior to being closed in 2006. When construction crews moved onto the site in November, they began dramatically changing the interior of the building to the point that few would recognize it from its prior “lives.”

The center is being renovated to include multipurpose event space to complement rental facilities at the Events Center at Greer City Hall, as well as accommodating Greer Cultural Arts with a black box theatre and office space.

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With renovations expected to be completed in late spring of 2012, the city’s events staff will begin booking the new rental space for parties, weddings, receptions, and other events to provide an additional revenue source for the city.

“City leaders used tremendous foresight when planning Greer City Hall and Greer City Park because the city really had no comparable events space,” Events Supervisor Laurie Campbell said.  “The Events Center at Greer City Hall is booked nearly every weekend for weddings and other social events.

“Businesses and organizations have discovered the adaptability of the space is ideal for weekday meetings and conferences.  The current events facilities are annually generating more than $150,00 in revenue and sponsorships.  Adding this new space to existing rental facilities will only increase revenue.”

The renovations will add 5,600 square feet of rental space to the city’s offerings, which currently include events halls at City Hall, the City Park amphitheater, picnic shelter, and gazebo. It will be unique in that a deck will span the entire southern exterior of the building overlooking the gazebo and pond, with the main entrance from the deck entering a lobby and reception area.

Inside, floor-to-ceiling walls serve as screens to help create an intimate feel while preventing the distraction of service activities. Smaller rooms behind the walls include office space, maintenance and data rooms, dressing rooms for productions, and classroom space that will also be available for rent.

“It’s going to be a very flexible space for events, able to accommodate everything from formal banquets to casual reunions,” Campbell said.  “It also opens an entirely new performance area for the Greer Cultural Arts Council and the Greer Children’s Theater, as riser seating will create a black box theater and put audience members close to the performers.”

Possibilities for the performing and visual arts excite Robin Byouk of the Greer Cultural Arts Council.  GCAC is currently housed in the Tryon Recreational Center and leases the auditorium at the J. Harley Bond Career Center for Greer Children’s Theater production.

The new facility “will allow GCAC to expand the cultural events we can provide to Greer and the surrounding communities,” Byouk said. “We are excited about being able to offer black box and dinner theatre, as well as art, music and dance programs all in one beautiful location in the heart of downtown Greer.,” .

GCAC planned a “Starry Night Gala” in February of 2012 with music, dancing, dinner, performances, and an auction to help raise funds for moving GCAC’s administrative offices to the renovated facility, as well as to purchase a stage, risers, and sound and lighting equipment needed to host productions in the facility..

Financing for the renovation was made possibly largely through the Hampton Roads TIF (tax increment financing) District supplemented by Community Block Development Grant funds. No general operating funds will be used.

“These are funds that must be used for a specific purpose,” Assistant City Administrator Mike Sell said. “They fit this renovation project perfectly.”

And, as it has for the past 75 years – as an armory and a city gymnasium, the facility is expected to once again fit the city’s needs perfectly.