Franklin County commissioners plan to purchase the Northland Performing Arts Center for a little more than $2 million and maintain the building as a public, community-based arts facility under the management of a local nonprofit, the Harmony Project, officials confirmed to The Dispatch.
The board of commissioners is expected to approve the property purchase during its business meeting Tuesday morning and a lease agreement with the Harmony Project a week later.
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The 30,000-square-foot center is located at 4411 Tamarack Blvd. and is owned by Ohio Performance Academy Inc., which approached the county in mid-2020 about a possible sale. The property is believed to be the last section of the former Northland Mall still standing and is physically connected to the building that houses Franklin County Job and Family Services. It's also located near the county Dog Shelter & Adoption Center.
Franklin County has already been using Northland Performing Arts Center
The county has long used the space for large meetings and special events, and “the purchase will allow us to continue to use the site when we need it as well as maintaining it as an important community asset,” said Tyler Lowry, spokesman for the commissioners.
Deputy Franklin County Administrator Kris Long said the purchase "makes sense, as a county asset, to have a presence there, to have a space that is outside of the Downtown to utilize for the county.
"Equally important, it is working out to make sure that this facility can continue to be an asset for the Northland and beyond community for arts and cultural entities," Long said. "We’ll be able to have, in the heart of a vibrant Northland community, a presence for nonprofits and arts groups."
The purchase is expected to be finalized in January, at a cost of about $1.8 million for the property, $200,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment, and up to $50,000 to resolve existing liabilities, Lowry said.
The commissioners also plan to finalize an agreement soon with the Harmony Project to operate the center. The nonprofit group, established more than a decade ago, coordinates concerts and arts events, community service projects and other activities.
Northland to become Harmony Project's new home
About six years ago, the group considered opening shop in a former church property in Franklinton before moving into space at the Lincoln Theatre on East Long Street. But the group has done rehearsals and performances and other programming throughout the county, including at the Northland Performing Arts facility.
“Our dream and our hope has been to find a place where we can bring all of the programs to us and then really allow those programs to flourish and grow,” said David Brown, Harmony’s creative director.
“We also have had a commitment to the Northland community and service projects and reaching out to the new American community and immigrants and refugee families. … We see (Northland) not only as our home offices or rehearsal space for the 500 Voice Harmony Community Chorus but also we can have after-school programming. … This place is on a bus line, it’s easily walkable from a lot of other locations.”
Brown said he also expects those frequenting the new location to have a direct economic impact on the Northland area, as the hundreds of singers who attend rehearsals weekly visit stores, restaurants and other businesses.
“We love the opportunity to break down stereotypes and images and things that people have in their minds, not only of each other but also of neighborhoods," he said. "I think this is a great opportunity for us to have a home, for us to be good tenants, stewards and partners and to also be able to really bring the arts into a neighborhood that perhaps has been left behind a little bit.”
Shelly Lewis, Harmony’s chief operating officer, said the nonprofit has, at times, had to rent spaces around town for rehearsals, as Harmony has continued to grow.
“As the choir has grown — I think at one time it was 100, then 200, then it was two separate choirs of 200, then it blended to be 500 — we have opportunity even to grow that, because we have the space now to be able to do that and add additional dates if we need to, ” she said.
While there likely will be renovations to the building, Brown said he expected to have rehearsals and other activities at Northland in February.
“We would hope, by the end of ’22, people are going to see a big difference in what the space is doing and how it’s serving the community, not just in aesthetic … qualities but also in the traffic that’s going in and out of the building," Brown said.
Peggy Meckling-Baker, the nonprofit group’s spokeswoman, noted that the space inside the Northland center "is absolutely usable for our youth programs, for our differently abled adult programs, absolutely usable just where it stands right now. That’s really exciting. We have not had homes for these programs, we have been all over the city.”
Other local arts officials are praising the move.
Tom Katzenmeyer, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, said in a statement: “We are thrilled that one of Columbus' homegrown arts organizations, Harmony Project, will be the lead partner with the county on the renovation and management of the space, as this becomes Harmony's new home base. With Harmony at the helm, we know this space will be a world-class performing arts venue that will serve all of Franklin County, and expand the arts outreach into the Northland community.”
Chad Whittington, president and CEO of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA), said the Harmony Project "has been a great partner over the past decade and a significant contributor to the arts in this community.
" A creative partnership like this one between Franklin County and Harmony Project will empower the arts in the Northland community," Whittington said. "This project is an exciting example of making the arts community in Franklin County even more-inclusive and accessible.”
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Northland arts center Franklin County to own, Harmony Project to lease