As years of planning and hard work begin to come to fruition, Elkin residents gathered at the Heritage Center to discuss ideas for uses of the large property on the south end of downtown.
“There’s about three acres from South Bridge Street to Standard Street,” said project manager Leslie Schlender.
“This whole swath of land that you see is part of this property,” which the town will continue to own, according to Schlender, who is also the economic development director for the town of Elkin.
“We were the party that got through the construction phase and the funding phase to get this open,” said Schlender, “and then it will be released to the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce. They will be the folks that get to staff it and run it and bring it to life every single day. That’s kind of logistically how the building’s going to work.”
That was helpful to know as about 50 residents including representatives from a variety of organizations, businesses and local government joined to discuss the future of the property Thursday.
“It’s so exciting to look out at the parking lot and seeing all those cars,” said Schlender.
“There’s so many people in this community and in this room that have been champions and cheerleaders of this project,” she said, “either through what you’ve done supporting myself as project manager, for what you’ve said to your commissioners and mayor, with the joint enthusiasm behind the scenes to get this thing where we are now.
“Where we are now is the doorstep to a finished project that will hopefully encourage new residents as well as visitors through an experience that will be a draw in itself.”
Schlender reminded the group of the mission statement. “To be a destination experience for residents and visitors to the area so they may gain a complete understanding of the broad assets, opportunities, and quality of life that Elkin and the Yadkin Valley has to offer in a format that creates an impactful and lasting impression for each user of the center,” read Schlender.
“Destination experience is a big part of that mission. We want this to be something that in its own right people want to come and see,” said Schlender. “We want this to be the place that, if it’s a Sunday or Monday, this place is still open and they get a really, really great impression of what the Yadkin Valley and this community is all about.”
Betsy Peters Rascoe exhibited her understanding of that mission as she presented ideas from other projects completed by Design Dimension Inc., which will be bringing to life the vision of the community.
“When we start projects, our philosophy is we’re storytellers. We want to tell your story,” said Rascoe, who clarified that it would not be the average storytelling experience.
“We’re not talking about books on the wall here. What we want people to do is come here, be engaged, start a conversation,” said Rascoe as she showed other projects which included incorporating the floor into the story, a variety of interactive pieces for adults as well as children, and outdoor features.
These ideas got the group thinking about what they would like to see at the Heritage Center after encouragement from Rascoe.
“We start really big in that first design with blinders open. Think about all the different possibilities,” said Rascoe, who asked for funding to not be a consideration during this phase.
“I like what Kevin Costner said,” said Commissioner Skip Whitman, quoting the film “Field of Dreams.” “’If you build it, they will come.’
“And if you can imagine it, you can build it,” he said. “Think like Disney when you’re doing this, that’s what’s going to make it work. Don’t worry about money, because if you don’t reach for the stars, you’ll never get there.
“When we tried to get to the moon, there was no way we could finance it, and if we didn’t try to get there, we wouldn’t,” said Whitman, who had his eye on the future as well as the stars.
“I think that we have to think 15 years from now. If we plan this for next year or three years from now, by the time it’s up it’s going to be outdated and it’s not going to attract the millennial population,” said Whitman, who received spontaneous applause from a quiet room at his insistence that the center have strong WiFi.
“I’m not thinking storyboards. I’m not talking pictures and things like that. I’m thinking holograms,” said Whitman. “A hologram, 3-D, virtual immersion, those kinds of things that can make it so unique an experience that it doesn’t matter what we say because they’re going to come just for the experience.”
Although many of the ideas presented were based on video presentations with the promise of funding for some of the displays, some were ideas about how to use the property including a water garden, outdoor music venue, and even a ticket booth to represent the train riding experience.
“We also discussed a walkway directly back here to the linear park,” said Brittany Russell. “Maybe a bridge over the railroad tracks which would be a big project and making signage inside of there.”
Teresa Howell agreed that signage was important, but her focus was the Overmountain Victory Trail.
“We wouldn’t have our independence had it not been [for the trail],” said Howell, explaining that this trail starts at the Surry Militia Muster Field at Elkin Municipal Park and merges with the second spur of the trail from Abingdon, Virginia, leading to the site of the Battle of King’s Mountain, which was a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
“We need a permanent major display out here so people coming off the interstate can see this,” said Howell, noting the trail is only one of 19 National Historic Trails.
“Most of our trails follow long-term history,” said Bill Blackley, describing several ideas that incorporated the unique trail system in Elkin, which has the trans-state Mountains-To-Sea Trail passing through Main Street.
“The railroads that are going to Stone Mountain and to Sparta would be a big piece of it,” said Blackley, “and we really like the idea of incorporating the families of Elkin. The Chathams, the Gwyns and all the names that have been here a long time and the newer ones of us that are becoming Elkin and really focus on the families that are here.”
Focusing on families came up several times during the brainstorming session.
“Initially everything that we were talking about is all of the things that kind of bring people to the area,” said Whitman, “the trails, the river, the vineyards and all that stuff.
“But then what we were talking about is, why Elkin, and we think that is the most important thing that we came up with,” said Whitman, describing a specific section that would incorporate several characteristics of the community that drew him 25 years previously.
“Have that as an Elkin-focused section and within that you can put information about the hospital, the library, the schools, the rec center and all the good things that are unique to Elkin.”
“[The mission of the Heritage Center] is not just to bring the tourists and to come and look and go around, but is to have an attraction for someone who is looking to move to the area,” said Whitman, “to come to this building and have an area that can say ‘here’s why you need to live in Elkin.’ You can incorporate all these things into that one section and we can get the millennials I know.”
Appealing to millennials may not be as difficult as it sounds.
Millennial Natalie Eidson pointed out that drawing young people is more about making the environment pleasing with activities than it is about having places for them to work.
“Millennials go to the lifestyle and then they create opportunities,” said Schlender, “so sing out, ‘this is where you want to be, the lifestyle you’re looking for is here.’”
A steering committee was expected to take a second look at the ideas presented in the community meeting.
“They are going to vet and prioritize what comes out of here and also maybe get a little deeper,” said Schlender, describing how that committee may find ways to combine ideas to make the best use of the space available, however the community meeting was an important place to start the exhibition process.
“Essentially our job is to orient people and to tell your story, but you guys are so important to the process,” said Rascoe, “because there’s no way we can really learn about the story or tell the story without understanding what you want said.”
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.