As in many small towns, when folks in Sterling watch a live performance, they are likely sitting in the high school auditorium or maybe the mixed-use event center/gymnasium at the regional college. While Sterling locals attend comedy nights at restaurants or concerts at the First Presbyterian Church, downtown revitalization supporters are dreaming of a community performing arts center to anchor the awakening city center.
Logan County Economic Development Corp.'s Trae Miller, the group's executive director for the past year, is working toward a new cultural and artistic venue as part of a revitalization of downtown Sterling, where some buildings have remained empty for decades. Miller optimistically foresees a transformed 1906 Woolworth Building the 13,000-square-foot facility that has sat vacant for 30 years--becoming a new downtown cultural center by spring 2018.
"The concept is constantly evolving, but it will continue around the idea of benefiting the entire community and bringing traffic downtown," Miller says.
When Miller started with the LCEDC in February 2015, he was adamant that bringing in new businesses to downtown Sterling would be difficult so long as the Woolworth Building sat vacant with windows boarded over with plywood.
"How are we going to revitalize downtown when a building in this condition is sitting in the heart of our downtown?" he asked of the empty structure a half-block from the stately, domed Logan County Courthouse. The 1910 Renaissance Revival courthouse went through its own $5 million renovation in multiple phases from 2000 to summer 2013.
In comparison, the Woolworth Building was "unsightly," with a "waterfall" of a roof leak, according to Miller. Economic development leaders decided no private entity would ever buy, nor renovate it. At first, organizers thought the 110-year-old building might need to be razed, but an informal evaluation by city building officials determined it was still structurally sound. Still, transforming it would be a lengthy and expensive undertaking.
"One of the things we kept coming back to was, 'Who else is going to take this on?'" says Miller, whose office is located in the building next door. Leaders decided that utilizing a nonprofit status would create the best odds of getting the property back in use again.
Business owners Alan and Cindy Hoal, Sterling natives and renovators of multiple buildings throughout downtown, bought the Woolworth Building in May 2015. The couple remembers...