Published 12:00 am Friday, March 1, 2013

SALISBURY — When Justin Dionne was a student at Catawba College, his dream was to head a theater that incorporated his two loves — music and theater. His dream and that of many who gathered in the shell of the future Lee Street Theatre is on its way to becoming a reality.
Supporters and board members attended the groundbreaking Thursday inside what will also be the home of St. Thomas Players. Currently, St. Thomas Players, performs at Catawba College’s Busby Theatre. Lee Street performances have been held at the Looking Glass Artist Collective, one block away, since Lee Street was formed more than three years ago.
“It’s so surreal. This is happening,” Dionne said.
Dionne, who is managing artistic director, said the theater is expected to be completed by September, but for now the fundraising continues.
Inside the space, construction crews already began to dig trenches into the concrete. Board members didn’t exactly turn over dirt as it goes with most groundbreaking ceremonies, but some took a jackhammer to a corner of concrete.
The 9,000 square foot theater space is located at the corner of North Lee and Kerr streets in the Rail Walk Arts district in what was once wholesale grocery warehouse space.
Glenn Ketner, who attended the ceremony, has said that particular building was the Peeler-Miller warehouse. Photographer Ben Martin’s uncle, Luther Miller, ran the warehouse now home to Lee Street Theatre, Ketner said.
Glenn recalls in 2000 when he met Ed Norvell and the two walked from Depot Street to Cemetery Street.
“He said, ‘This area could be shops and art galleries,’ ” Ketner said.
Ketner said the Rail Walk Arts District came about after an intense planning session in 2002 with other property owners — and out that came the Lee Street Charrette. The final report has sort of been the blueprint for how to develop the spaces in the two-block area.
“It’s pretty exciting to see these buildings come alive,” Ketner said.
John Ketner said he was thrilled to see the progress.
“I think Justin Dionne, and Lee Street and Robert Jones have a real unique vision. We’re excited to play a part,” John Ketner said.
“We want this place to be used by the community,” said Cindi Graham, board member and treasurer.
The theater will be a place not only for theatrical productions, but community events, meetings, weddings, dance recitals. Since St. Thomas Players was limited to about two shows a year, the space will also give them the opportunity to showcase more performances, she said.
Graham said the initial idea for Lee Street Theatre began in Robert Jones’ living room. Jones, who is board president, said during the ceremony that the idea was to do something different in Salisbury.
She credits Dionne and board member Bill Greene with knowing how to “make it happen.”
Greene said there were a lot of talented people who had a vision for the theater.

Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.