City begins fining theater developer over delays
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Greenville officials have begun fining developers $100 a day for failing to meet construction deadlines in their efforts to redevelop the historic White’s Theater on Fifth Street downtown.
City Manager Ann Wall notified Clayton-based CommunitySmith that a contractual grace period ended on Sunday and that the city would begin penalizing the developer for failing to obtain a certificate of occupancy before the period ended.
CommunitySmith, which specializes in revitalization projects statewide and worked on two other successful redevelopments on Fifth Street and Dickinson Avenue, purchased the property from the city in September 2016 for $20,000.
As part of the purchase contract, the company was to convert the structure into a live music and performance center on or before March 31. The contract included a 120-day grace period after March 31. Crews have made significant progress on the building, but the project remains far from complete.
Wall on Wednesday directed The Daily Reflector to CommunitySmith for questions about delays. CommunitySmith did not immediately return a call Wednesday and has failed to return several inquiries made by the Reflector since March.
Wall said city officials want CommunitySmith to complete the renovation and open the venue.
“Certainly we can’t wait for the project to be completed and open for business,” Wall said. “I think it will be a great place for music, performances and the city as a whole.“
About a month before the March deadline, officials from the company said the project would be done on time and they did not expect substantial delays. Holton Wilkerson, a partner with CommunitySmith, said in late February he did not expect for construction to extend far into the grace period.
Wall said in her letter to the company that city officials have completed a “visual inspection” of the property and that it does not appear “to be ready for occupancy.”
At the end of the letter, she asked the company to provide a timeline for when the project will be complete.
By contract, the city can fine the company $100 a day for up to 720 days until the theater receives a certificate of occupancy. If the theater is still not completed by the 840th day, the company would be charged $300,000 minus any sums paid during the initial 720 days.
The theater opened in 1914, closed in the late 1990s then fell into disrepair. The city Redevelopment Commission purchased the property in 2008 for about $281,000 with general obligation bond funds designated for downtown redevelopment.
The city used about $175,000 in Brownfield grant funds and another $165,000 in bond funds for environmental cleanup and structural stabilization work — which included replacing deteriorated roof beams — and to redesign the city-owned Washington Street parking lot to accommodate tour buses and delivery trucks for the theater and surrounding merchants.
After CommunitySmith took possession, crews continued stabilizing the building and removing the structure that housed the theater’s fly system — used to hoist backdrops for stage plays. Wilkerson said it was removed for structural stability and environmental reasons.
The rear of theater is being expanded for show space and dressing rooms. The theater will feature a multi-level design with a full bar with and flexible seating on the main level to allowing for a variety of configurations to meet the needs of different events. Additionally there will be a large mezzanine floor.
CommunitySmith planned to lease the facility to Lincoln Theater in Raleigh, which draws nationally known musicians to its facility there. Wilkerson told city officials that bands Lincoln Theater books in Raleigh also will perform in Greenville, and the additional venue will help the business bring in even more acts.
Contact Seth Gulledge at 329-9579 and Sgulledge@reflector.com Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth