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Volume 24, Number 6 — June 2017

Birthplace of Country Music Raising the Roof

This former auto dealership building in downtown Bristol will one day be a Cultural Heritage Center dedicated to the region's country and bluegrass heritage. (Photo by David Crigger, Bristol Herald Courier)
This former auto dealership building in downtown Bristol will one day be a Cultural Heritage Center dedicated to the region's country and bluegrass heritage. (Photo by David Crigger, Bristol Herald Courier)

Structural Improvements Continue in Downtown Bristol

By DAVID MCGEE |BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | February 17, 2009

*** This story was published: Feb. 17, 2009 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

BRISTOL, Va. — Workers wielding shovels and scrapers began Monday to peel away the old roof of the building slated to house a downtown music center and museum.

The work is the latest structural improvement at 510 Cumberland St., a vacant former auto dealership now owned by the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. The Bristol-based nonprofit group aspires to one day open a center dedicated to the region's country and bluegrass heritage.

The Twin City has been designated the "Birthplace of Country Music" due to the 1927 recordings of the first commercially successful country music by a talent scout in a makeshift studio on State Street.

While the fundraising pace has slowed due to the struggling economy, work on the building continues, said BCMA Executive Director Bill Hartley. "We're replacing the roof structure to help stabilize the building and prevent any further deterioration," Hartley said. "We want to get the building under roof so the interior work can begin."

A crew from Abingdon Roofing is removing the old asphalt roofing and will install a heavy-duty, white membrane roof in its place. That work is expected to take up to three weeks and cost $76,000. The money comes from a nearly $300,000 grant the alliance received last year from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Development Commission.

In recent weeks, other workers have removed the asphalt flooring on the ground floor, repaired minor damage to walls, torn out some unnecessary walls and partitions and removed a small amount of asbestos.

While this work has progressed steadily, the next phases are expected to take longer, Hartley said. "By the end of April, we should have the construction documents finalized for the renovation of the building. At that point, that phase can be put out for bid. But it might be delayed or extended."

A year ago, BCMA officials said they hoped to raise more than $12 million by early to mid-2009 and open the center in 2011. BCMA officials are not certain about a new time frame.

Because the tight economy has impacted potential private donors, the alliance is exploring previously unknown avenues to federal grants and loans, said fundraising Chairman Kevin Triplett.

"Public funding has become a bigger focus of what we're doing," Triplett said. "Public funding has always been part of our package, but our time frame and focus has been altered a little bit."

At the same time, the BCMA won't abandon its efforts to raise money from the private sector, Hartley said. "We plan to continue our relationship with potential donors and see how the economy goes and how quickly it recovers," Hartley said. "People are interested in the project, but ? because of economic uncertainty or a decline in their assets ? they're not in a position to help right now. We're no different than other projects or nonprofit organizations."

The potential silver lining, Triplett said, is that the project could cost less because there's currently not as much demand for construction labor and materials. "It's possible that some of the work may not cost as much as it would have a year-and-a-half ago," Triplett said.

The organization's board of directors met recently and remains committed to the project, Hartley said. "We're still trying to find ways to make this happen," he said.