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Chamber's members learn about Marshall arts center

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- By August 2014, there will be hundreds of creative minds milling the streets, interacting with the people and sharing their gifts with downtown Huntington.

That's the message that Donald Van Horn, dean of Marshall University's College of Fine Arts, shared Friday with a group of businessmen and women who gathered for Coffee & Conversation. The regular event, which took place Friday at Huntington Prime, is organized by the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce to give business people an inside glimpse into interesting people, companies and projects that affect the community.

In this case, they learned about renovation of the six-story property at 927 3rd Ave., the former Stone & Thomas building, into a new center for Marshall's art department.

Its ground floor will feature retail space, a gallery and a student-run gift shop selling art students' works, all open to the community, and the rest will be mostly instructional space and some offices.

The new Visual Arts Center is a project that could potentially double the size of the university's art program while increasing foot traffic for downtown businesses and bringing a dynamic group of students to the downtown area, Van Horn said.

It's an opportunity "to engage students more completely and fully in the community," he said, adding that he'd like to see business people and community members to be part of the building and help the students become involved in solutions to making the downtown a better place to be.

"This is going to be a resource for the entire community, and it's important to me that we take advantage of that," Van Horn said. "These students are extremely creative, and we can engage them with community leaders to help solve problems. That excites me more than anything else about this building."

Some of those in attendance also expressed enthusiasm about the project. Frank Betz, chief operating officer of the Rahall Transportation Institute, said RTI has about 50 offices that will be moving to 3rd Avenue across from Pullman Square.

"We're really looking forward to what's happening downtown. There's a lot of excitement," Betz said.

Jeff Barnes of the Putnam County-based Barnes Agency, a marketing and advertising firm, said the project is a big reason he's decided to open a Huntington office. He hopes to work with Marshall students to provide internship opportunities.

The renovation project will cost an estimated $13 million. Design work was done by Edward Tucker Architects Inc., and the contractor is Neighborgall Construction.

About $9 million of the cost is coming from bond proceeds. The College of Fine Arts, which becomes the College of Arts and Media on July 1, is launching a $7 million public fundraising campaign this fall, with $4 million going toward the center. The College of Fine Arts already has raised $1.2 million for the facility.

"Investment in this project will come back tenfold," said Ron Area, CEO of the Marshall University Foundation.

Local attorney and Chamber member Barry Taylor also has joined the effort and is reaching out to the community for private investments.

"Higher education makes progress because of patronage, and not just the patronage of government," he said.

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