WESTLAKE – Smith Mountain Lake Center Inc. is nearing its fundraising goal to purchase the former Grand Home Furnishings building in Westlake that it plans to turn into a new community center.
The lake group announced last week that it had raised around 70% of the funds needed to purchase the vacant building. Vicki Gardner, chair of the board of directors of Smith Mountain Lake Center Inc., said more than $1 million has been raised through donations since the organization announced its ‘big plan’ to purchase the building. in February.
“It’s coming along wonderfully,” Gardner said.
SML Center Inc.’s goal is to convert the former 40,000 square foot retail space into a multi-purpose center for education, arts, entertainment, private events, business, tourism and community meeting places, according to a press release provided by the association last week. This type of space is lacking in the lake community, with local events often held at one of the area’s two churches.
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“The need has always been there to have a facility for events,” Gardner said.
Because of this need, two other groups attempted to create a community center. Gardner said the attempt is the first that has a significant likelihood of occurring due to current plans to purchase an existing, well-suited building rather than start construction from scratch.
Gardner has been one of the strongest supporters of a community center at Smith Mountain Lake. She set up a fund for the center with donations sent to her after she was seriously injured in the 2015 shooting at Bridgwater Plaza in Moneta that claimed the lives of WDBJ journalists Adam Ward and Alison Parker.
Gardner was then executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce. She was promoting the 50th anniversary of the lake with the two reporters when they were shot by a disgruntled former WDBJ employee.
Gardner said she hopes to hit the fundraising goal as soon as possible to purchase the building. Once acquired, she said work could begin to remodel the interior of the building to meet the needs of the community. The purchase will also give them the opportunity to apply for grants that could subsidize some of the renovation costs.
Even before the remodel was complete, Gardner said events could still take place inside the building. The interior has significant open space that can be used for concerts or even trade shows, she said.
More information about the building purchase effort can be found on the SML Center website: smlgrandplan.com.
Gardner said the nonprofit is accepting donations of any amount in order to reach the goal. There’s also talk of naming rights and signing opportunities, which start at $10,000.
“It’s going to take the community,” Gardner said. “It will take everyone to make this happen.”