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Children's theater plans on hold; historic commission votes 3-2 against proposal, says exterior doesn't fit

By Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Piedmont Players’ proposed children’s theater on East Fisher Street hit a snag Thursday when the Historic Preservation Commission voted down some changes to the exterior.
Bids are scheduled to come in next week, and contractor Bill Wagoner said the project is on the cusp of getting its building permit, provided it receives an OK from the history group for the revisions.
“In general, I’m in agreement with what they’re proposing,” Chairwoman Anne Lyles said before her motion to approve the changes died in a 3-2 vote.
The matter will now go to a committee for more study.
The building in question is the former Friendly Cue pool hall at 135 E. Fisher St.
Perry Peterson, the Winston-Salem architect for the project, said many of the changes submitted have come about because the “economics” for the nonprofit have become more challenging since October, when the original plan was approved.
Wagoner stressed the project was in no way changing in scale or scope. Heights, widths and the roof pitch were the same, he noted. But each side of the building had some proposed revisions.
Instead of demolishing the front facade, the project now proposes reusing the existing brick as part of the renovation.
The East Fisher Street facade would feature 14 regular-sized windows, seven on each floor. The pattern of the windows differs in some respects from what was previously approved.
To save money, Piedmont Players also asked that the windows be Fiberglas and not aluminum-clad, as was approved earlier.
On the South Lee Street side, six new windows would be added near the corner closest to East Fisher Street. They would go into spots where bigger windows once were located.
Commission members expressed some concerns about how the brick infill below the new stock windows would look. Judy Kandl said it might not be compatible with design guidelines the commission has to follow.
On the opposite side closer to Main Street, six windows would be bricked in, according to the revisions.
In the back, the project called for a chain-link fence to enclose some mechanical equipment. The fence would be hidden by landscaping, according to the proposal.
Commission members hinted strongly that they could not approve the chain-link fence, and Wagoner said the fence could be deleted from the proposal. The equipment would still be screened by the landscaping, he said.
Also in the rear, a concrete walk would be installed instead of a brick one.
The standing seam metal roof for the building also represented a change, in that a new manufacturer has been chosen. The new plan also calls for painting all of the exterior brick the same color.
Commission member Susan Hurt expressed some concerns about the painting of the brick and said it was hard for her to picture how it would look. The proposed putty color would try to match the roof.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem with it,” Lyles said of painting the brick, something that is not unusual in the district. Most of the this particular building’s brick is painted already, for example.
Lyles said it appeared to her that the project’s front facade was trying to create the look of the original building as closely as possible. And Fiberglas windows were similar to the aluminum-clad replacement windows approved earlier, she said.
But in the end, Hurt, Kandl and Emily Perry voted against the request; Lyles and Jack Errante voted for it.
Senior Planner Janet Gapen noted the building, drastically different from what it looked like in the 1920s, was considered a non-contributing building to the downtown historic district because of all the changes.
The present facade is not original nor compatible with contributing buildings in the historic district. The building was omitted from National Register of Historic Places district in 1975 because of the facade.
Last November, Salisbury City Council approved a demolition of the facade as part of the building’s $2.5 million to $3 million transformation to a children’s theater. The Historic Preservation Commission also had approved the facade’s demolition.
The project doesn’t necessarily have to match the original building, Gapen said. Rather, the question for the commission was, is it compatible?
During a public comment session, Clyde Overcash spoke in support of the building revisions.
Abe Daniels, a business owner on East Fisher Street, said he couldn’t say whether he loved the project or hated it until he knew how the construction might affect his business.
The construction associated with the city’s streetscape improvements on East Fisher Street cost his barber shop 50 to 60 percent of its business, Daniels said, adding he couldn’t go through that again.

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