Sebastopol applies for grant to renovate old Co-Op building

By TIM BEELAND,

Sebastopol residents could see work begin on converting the old Co-Op building on Jackson Street into a multi-purpose auditorium in the coming year. At a Town Hall meeting last week, Mayor Greg McGarrity outlined plans for the building that officials hope can be funded with a Mississippi Small Municipalities and Limited Population County Grant.

Speaking to a large group gathered at Sebastopol Town Hall, McGarrity said that there is a long list of things he hopes can be accomplished with the building that the town acquired several years ago, but that the scope of renovations will be limited to what can be done with the $150,000 grant if awarded.

“Our thought process was let’s try to get some grant money to try to put into this thing, along with maybe some donations...some in-kind stuff to match the grants...our thoughts were maybe a small museum type thing in there...maybe tying something in with a festival with string music or something like that,” McGarrity said.  “We’ve also talked about a community center for reunions, business meetings, fitness classes — there’s a big interest in that.”

The mayor added that the outdoor area could possibly be turned into a small amphitheatre where concerts could be held with bands performing from where the loading docks are currently. The warehouse portion of the building is also big enough that it could be rented out for wedding receptions, proms and multiple other events. “Even maybe a farmer’s market,” he said.

“It needs a roof, nice bathrooms, the structure is good, but it needs new ceilings, new air conditioning and a look that would draw people,” McGarrity said.

Michele Moore, a grant consultant with Professional Grant Management who is working on the grant proposal for the town, said there are limits on what can be done.

“What we can do with the $150,000 is only the front half of the building,” Moore said. “We do want to do the back warehouse for the proms, for the wedding venues, but we don’t have enough money. We can do the new roof, we can kind of clean up the exterior, we can add on the new bathrooms, that’s all included (in the grant proposal).”

Although the long term vision for the facility is grand, Moore said that it is clear the town will not have enough money to do what everything that is envisioned right away.

“This is something the town needs,” Moore said. “People are having to go outside the town limits for weddings, for proms, we want to bring it in because we know bringing that in town means you are going to get people eating in your restaurants, shopping at your stores. We want to start getting some development going — getting some people brought back in, get them staying in town to do what they want to do.”

If Sebastopol is awarded the grant, architect estimates show on the front part of the building there will be funds to construct new bathroom facilties, repair and renovate the front facade, completely do a roof repair, add new signage on the front, clean and repair of floors and walls, install new acoustic tile ceilings, put down new floor finish, and repaint all surfaces. It will also add a new ramp to meet  Americans with Disabilities Act standards, provide for new electrical work, and install new heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

“If we could start on the front,” McGarrity said, “we get bathrooms and we get that front area and people would start using it. Start renting it.”

The town has also applied for a recreational trail grant to do repairs to the existing walking trail at Bishop Park which is adjacent to the Co-Op building. If awarded, that grant would add to the trail, possibly connecting it to the multi-purpose auditorium. It also would add lighting around the playground area, and add some benches and trash receptacles.

“We have one of the longer trails anywhere around here,” McGarrity said. “It’s a pretty good size grant to sort of redo the trail and it is looking pretty good (that the town will get it).” Official word will come in September.

“Our park is the big selling point for us with families with kids,” the mayor continued. “We’ve also talked about next year trying to host some ball tournaments. We hope that might generate some income we could start putting back into the park. Plus those people are looking for a place to eat, to buy stuff, and it comes back to us in the form of more sales tax.  I think this (the multi-purpose auditorium) would be another piece of the puzzle if we could get this thing done.”

Rep. Randy Rushing, also in attendance at the meeting, said, “you guys are really on to something here and mainly you’re blessed to just have a building. So many communities don’t even have a building to work with. Caterers are looking for new venues for weddings. Certainly a new place or one that is just recently opened up. You are really on to something here.”

The grant is part of a $5 million appropriation approved by the Mississippi Legislature. Applications are due July 15 with awards likely being made in October.