For The State Journal
A three-day “extravaganza” is planned for the opening of Marshall University’s new $13.7 million Visual Arts Center, says Don Van Horn, dean of MU’s College of Arts and Media, who has successfully shepherded the downtown project to completion.
Van Horn said the festivities will start in the late afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 18, with a ribbon cutting and an open house “primarily for our downtown business and government neighbors.” In the early evening of Friday, Sept. 19, there will be a “public open house” with a family orientation.
“Mayor Steve Williams envisions a block party for that event,” Van Horn said. “On Saturday night, Sept. 20, we will have a more formal celebration for donors, patrons, friends and dignitaries.”
The three days of fun will conclude three years of planning and hard work, transforming a 112-year-old department store building into a modern, high-tech center for visual arts education.
Van Horn says the additional space available in the new building will enable Marshall to more than double the number of students enrolled in visual arts courses on the campus.
“That doubling isn’t going to happen overnight, but will develop over the next 5 to 10 years,” he said. “The center will provide us with badly-needed space for new programs that in turn will attract new students.”
More immediately, Van Horn noted, the center’s opening will inject hundreds of students and faculty members into the city’s downtown. The center is located in the six-story former Anderson-Newcomb/Stone & Thomas Department Store building on 3rd Avenue across from Pullman Square.
Van Horn said the ground floor of the building will offer retail space for one or more tenants, along with a gallery and a student-run gift shop selling art students’ work. The remainder of the building will be devoted to studios, classrooms and offices. The ground floor will be open to the public, while access to the rest of the building will be controlled for security purposes.
The old building was gutted and then reinforced with 65 tons of structural steel. Now modern interior spaces have been constructed where shoppers once browsed the aisles of the old department store building. However, Van Horn noted that the project’s architect, Ed Tucker of Edward H. Tucker Architects Inc., has gone to great lengths to preserve the historic character of the building exterior.
As an example, Van Horn cites the large wooden-framed windows that dominate the building’s 3rd Avenue façade. Replacing the old frames with new wooden ones wasn’t practical, he said, but the new energy-efficient metal frames that have been installed are identical to the old wooden ones.
The department store building originally was built as a three-story structure in 1902, with three more floors added in 1920. For decades, it was home to the locally owned Anderson-Newcomb Co. In 1970, the Wheeling-based Stone & Thomas chain purchased the store but continued to operate it under the Anderson-Newcomb name. In 1980, the Anderson-Newcomb name was removed from the store and in 1996 Stone & Thomas announced its closure. The building remained vacant and unused until last year when Marshall purchased it.
Marshall paid $750,000 for the 66,000-square-foot building, described by Van Horn as “four walls, floors and dead pigeons” when the university purchased it. The school then issued $9 million in bonds to finance the renovation project, with the remainder of the $13.7 million cost to be covered by private donations.