Thursday, March 16, 2006

One Man’s Dream Transforms a Downtown

“It was one person’s dream to recreate our 1880s opera house to its past glory. The place had been city hall and the town jail and was in disrepair when Dr. Jim Wiseman, a local dentist, decided to make it his mission in life.” Teresa Powers, head of ED for Newberry County (population 36,108) was explaining to me how one person with a vision can transform a town. Newberry, SC (population 10,580) was one of my top 100 agurbs® and I was not disappointed with having chosen them as a “golden eagle.”

“He even ran for the city council to get this project done,” Teresa explained to me. It’s not often that I see someone running for office with an “agenda”, have such a positive impact upon a community.” But, Dr. Wiseman is one of those visionaries who knows what he’s going to do and doesn’t let anything stand in his path.

His efforts culminated in an $8 million renovation of the 420 seat historic building in 1998. Dr. Wiseman also went after one of the top 25 theater managers in the country, recruiting in Debra Smith from CN who loved the quality of life in the SC town. Over 200 groups perform per year, many with multiple productions. The Shanghai Quartet was performing the night I was there and groups on the program for the first five months of the year included: The Lettermen, The von Trapp Children, The Oak Ridge Boys, Swan Lake with the Russian National Ballet, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and many others.

Teresa added, “As a result of the opera house we bring over 100,000 people into our downtown area every year. We had a local investor build a brand new Hampton Inn next to the opera house and are in the process of converting an old firehouse into a conference center for groups of up to 150. We’ve also now got 2 of the top 10 restaurants in central SC and a new coffee shop just opened. The old downtown hotel has just been sold to an investor who intends to turn it into a 15 room bed and breakfast.”

We drove by a construction site for 24 new townhouses adjacent to the downtown. There is a real vibrancy going on in downtown Newberry. And it all started with one person with a special vision for their hometown.

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