Steele building to be razed for restaurant

January 8, 2014

Matt Harrelson

Staff Writer

ROCKINGHAM — Discovery Place KIDS is getting a new neighbor.

City officials on Wednesday announced receipt of a $475,000 grant from the Cole Foundation that will fund the demolition of the Steele building on East Washington Street, across from Discovery Place KIDS, and construct in its place a new a multipurpose building that will be one part cafeteria and one part restaurant.

Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump said the public purpose of the redevelopment of the building property is to facilitate its reuse for two primary reason. The first reason being to provide amenities to support Discovery Place KIDS, which in less than a year has attracted over 40,000 visitors to downtown Rockingham.

The second reason, Crump said, is to use this property redevelopment as a demonstration project to serve as an example to hopefully induce further similar redevelopment in downtown Rockingham. He called the project a “model for redevelopment” for the downtown area.

Mayor Steve Morris echoed Crump’s sentiments.

“With more development, hopefully we get more people to come,” Morris said. “You’re taking a chance in economic development, but it’s better than doing nothing.”

The new facility will be a single-story structure with approximately 4,500 square feet. One half of the building will be used for the assembly area for visiting school children and other similar groups for eating lunch while visiting the Discovery Place KIDS. The other half will be leased out for a restaurant.

“The future restaurant owner will have the responsibility of cleaning and maintaining both areas,” added Morris.

Brian Collier, senior vice president for Community Programs and Civic Leadership with Foundation For The Carolinas — the firm which manages the Cole Foundation Endowment — said the goal is to help make downtown Rockingham appealing and attractive to people.

“I think two things were very important for this grant. One, it’s ability to leverage our investment in Discovery Place Kids,” Collier said. “The thing that we’re learning with Discovery Place is that we’re missing other key amenities that make it enticing for people to visit downtown Rockingham, like a great restaurant.”

Collier cited the foundation’s historically strong relationship with the city as a second reason.

“We believe they have great leaders and we trust they will follow through on the commitments they make to us,” Collier said.

The demolition bid opening for the project is scheduled at 2 p.m. on Jan. 23 at Rockingham City Hall. City officials hope to begin the process by late spring.

The project grant is the Cole Foundation’s third largest in the last 10 years, Collier said.

The Cole Foundation has distributed more than $25.6 million since 1988 to benefit the residents of Richmond County, Collier noted.

The city will be the beneficiary of the third largest project grant by the Cole Foundation in Richmond County in the last 10 years, behind a $3.3 million gift for Discovery Place KIDS and, in 2007, a grant to the city of Rockingham for recreational property acquisition.

In addition to project grants, the Cole Foundation distributed nearly $300,000 each year in scholarships to Richmond County students.