Barter Theatre plans North Carolina expansion, sets public meeting to answer concerns

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ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) – A multi-million dollar deal is in the works for a Tri-Cities region icon to expand.

Barter Threatre in Abingdon is the State Theatre of Virginia. It’s the nation’s longest running professional theatre.

Now the theatre has been invited to open a second location in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the hometown of famed performed Andy Griffith.

News Channel 11’s Justin Soto found out why some have concerns about the $12 million deal.

Last month – the City of Mount Airy unveiled plans to develop an old industrial site into a 500 seat theatre, complete with a hotel and retail space.

The city wants Barter to be the star of their new show.

For Barter Theatre Management – the offer seems too good to refuse.

“They have access to a lot of marketing regions that we want to get into. That we don’t have access to,” Producing Artistic Director of the Barter Theatre, Richard Rose said.

Rose said Mount Airy’s tourism market is around twice the size of Abingdon’s.

“We know that by going down there, we can increase our business here pretty significantly,” Rose said.

The new theatre would be similar in size and scope to Barter, with around 500 seats, in a complex with a large hotel convention center, apartments, and condos nearby.

Rose is clear though, nothing in Abingdon would change.

“Our whole purpose here was not to harm or do anything different in this operation at all,” Rose said.

Across the street at the Martha Washington Inn and Spa, General Manager Christopher Lowe is happy to see Barter looking to expand, but he’s concerned about the location.

“We’re right about 43% of our customer base we’re seeing come from that market. What we’re defining as North Carolina,” General Manager of the Martha Washington Inn & Spa, Christopher Lowe said.

He’s unsure about how this could impact his business.

“They assume they’re going to bring more people here because they’re going to have a greater presence over there and we assume that the inevitable is going to happen and people are going to drive shorter for a brand new product,” Lowe said.

Rose wants the community to know he understands the concern, but he feels it’s a great opportunity that will keep people coming to Abingdon.

“Everything we’ve found, and everything we believe, and everything we’ve researched that that fear is unfounded. That we will all actually do better as a result of that,” Rose said.

Barter Theatre is set to finalize the deal on Monday.

Theatre Management will host a public comment meeting the following day at 6:30 p.m. at Barter Stage 2.

The first season in Mount Airy could start in 2021.

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