SUMMERVILLE — A Flowertown post office built in 1938 will be turned into a creative hub with exhibits, private studio spaces, classrooms and an outdoor stage for emerging artists.
Most recently used as the Commissioners of Public Works Building, the space at 135 W. Richardson Ave. has been stripped down to bare walls.
Public Works Art Center, the organization behind the new project, held an open house Thursday to share their vision and mission for the old building. Guests were encouraged to donate, and young children were invited to scribble on the interior walls before they were torn down.
"Summerville hasn't had a hub for creativity," Jana Riley, the interim director of the Public Works Art Center, said. "This is an answer for that. If this would have become anything other than a public space, it would have been a tragedy."
Summerville's Commissioners of Public Works has been housed in the old post office building since 1984. They moved out last year to a new site on Cedar Street. Since then, the old post office's future was uncertain and The Town Council wasn't interested in buying it.
Chris Kahler, general manager of the town's Commissioners of Public Works, said the agency still owns the building. The arts organization signed a lease until 2022 to rent the building for $6,000 a month. It will progress to $8,000 a month by the last year.
"Our intent has been to keep it as a public building," Kahler said. "They approached us early in the game and expressed interest."
The old post office will be completely restored and renovated by the arts group, Riley said. They have to make the building handicapped-accessible, convert the electrical system and replace duct work before opening it up to the public.
Dennis Ashley, a board member for the arts group, said the group has received about $30,000 worth of pledges and donations so far to go toward construction and other expenses. A GoFundMe has raised more than $4,000 of their $235,000 goal.
"I'm an architect and this is my last project," Ashley said. "This seems to me to be the jewel in the rebirth of downtown Summerville."
Ashley said members of the group have gotten together to established a line of credit so they can begin working on projects immediately.
The main revenue stream for the art space will be private studio and event rentals, Riley said. The blueprints for the 12,000-square-foot project show about 17 spaces that artists can rent and use.
When asked if the art space was considered a necessity, Kahler said public feedback was in favor of the project.
"Whether there was a need or not, there was definitely a desire for an art center to be there," Kahler said.
One excited artist is Anne Peterson. The 30-year resident and watercolor artist said the town is filled with creative people but too often they find themselves isolated in their work.
"Art can be lonely and there's a lot of people who are starving to be with other artists," Peterson said.
The space won't just be for seasoned artists though, Riley said. The group plans to hold educational art classes for all ages and experience levels.
The transformation of the space is far-ranging. A loading dock at the back of the old post office will be turned into a sound stage where local bands can play concerts. The group is also raising money to add two kilns and six pottery wheels for sculpting classes.
The group is hoping to rent studio spaces out by the fall. Donations for the project can be sent to P.O. Box 8, Summerville, S.C. 29484 or through the GoFundMe.
"People are so excited," Peterson said. "This is going to change Summerville."