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New Visual Arts Center Seen As Plus For Both Marshall, Downtown Huntington

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By JAMES E. CASTO

For the State Journal

HUNTINGTON – Donald Van Horn, dean of the Marshall University College of Fine Arts, predicts the university's new Visual Arts Center now taking shape in downtown Huntington could prompt the MU arts program to double its enrollment.

Van Horn briefed members of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce on the project at a breakfast meeting June 28 at Huntington Prime Restaurant.

"That doubling isn't going to happen overnight," he said, "but will develop over the next five to 10 years. The center will provide us with badly needed space for new programs that in turn will attract new students."

More immediately, Van Horn noted, when the center is completed and opened it will inject 400 students and faculty members into the city's downtown. The center, to be located in the six-story former Stone & Thomas Department Store building on 3rd Avenue across from Pullman Square, is scheduled for completion in August 2014.

When the center opens, both students and faculty will have an unprecedented opportunity to "interact with the downtown community," he said.

Other universities are establishing similar arts centers, and "we expect our facility will attract visitors from all over the country as they seek models for their own projects," Van Horn said.

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.

Acquiring and remodeling the old department store is a $13 million project for Marshall, with $9 million of the cost to be covered by bond revenue. The remainder is being sought in a public fund-raising effort that thus far has netted $1.2 million.

Ron Area, Marshall's senior vice president for development and CEO of the Marshall University Foundation, said it's critically important for the community to invest in the new center. "That investment will come back tenfold," Area told the breakfast meeting.   

The building has been gutted, with modern interior spaces to be constructed where shoppers once browsed the aisles of the old department store. 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's exterior.

As an example, Van Horn cited the large wooden-framed windows that dominate the building's 3rd Avenue facade. Replacing the old frames with new wooden ones wasn't practical, he said, but the new energy-efficient metal frames to be installed will be identical to the old wooden ones.

The old 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 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.