Commerce’s civic center could be used for more than just events after a future renovation project.

The Commerce Downtown Development Authority got an update on the project at its April 26 meeting.

Designs are still preliminary, but Downtown Development/Main Street Director Natalie Thomas said city leaders have been discussing ideas with the architectural design team. A number of potential changes were discussed for the facility, including putting some government offices on the ground level. The city is also considering dividing the upstairs to allow events of different sizes, along with additional event spaces downstairs.

“They are working on that concept and said they would have it back to us this week,” said Thomas.

Thomas said they expect to have some back-and-forth with the design team before deciding on a plan.

Meanwhile, Thomas said rental requests at the civic center have begun to pick up again.

“As the state opens up, people are getting more comfortable,” she said. “Plus, people just want to get together. Everything got put on hold last year, so I think our human nature is to try to make up for lost times. We’re really seeing it booked up.”

DOWNTOWN EVENT SPACE

Also at its April 26 meeting, the DDA discussed two options for a new downtown event space to accommodate anticipated growth in the area.

“As we grow — and we are growing — we’re already seeing that downtown (when we had events pre-COVID) we were kind of spilling out into the streets,” Thomas said. “It’s getting a little bit more challenging to manage the crowds.”

The DDA previously discussed a piece of town-owned property off Quinlan St. for a possible event space. The property is located across Quinlan St. from Napa Auto Parts, behind the flower mural wall on North Broad St.

But Thomas said city leaders have suggested the DDA consider a different piece of town-owned property. That vacant lot is located at High Street, Line Street and View Street (across View Street from Napa Auto Parts).

Both properties have their pros and cons.

The vacant lot is larger, flat and has better access to parking. But it would need a bathroom and possible stage area.

The property off Quinlan St. has a city-owned building on it, which had working bathrooms inside at one time, and DDA members previously discussed using the exterior façade of the building as a backdrop for a stage. The property is also more visible from the main road. But the existing building hasn’t been used for years and it’s not clear how much it will cost to repair.

Several DDA members seemed to prefer the potentials at the Quinlan St. property.

“I saw so much potential there,” said DDA member Susan Stephenson. “It was just so unique.”

DDA member Johnny Eubanks said he feared the city would tear down the building if that space isn’t used.

Several DDA members also noted the vacant lot could be used for a development in the future, while the Quinlan St. property would be harder to find a use for given its topography.

Ultimately, the DDA decided to pursue getting a structural engineer to look at the building on the Quinlan St. property before moving forward on either option.

OTHER BUSINESS

Also at its meeting, the DDA:

•discussed the recent Easter event, which was modified due to COVID. Thomas said the event was a success with 40-50 children participating and a good turnout of spectators.

•got an update on a bike race coming up on Sunday, May 2, from 8:30 a.m. to approximately 4:30 p.m. in downtown. Approximately 500-600 participants are expected.

•learned a car show will be held in downtown on Saturday, May 15, from 1-5 p.m. No food trucks will be at this year’s event. The Eli Carlan Band will perform.

•talked improvements to Willoughby Park including the newly-painted and lit pavilion. The DDA also spoke about a potential dog park on a section of the park and discussed the need for a set of park rules and ways to minimize upkeep needs on the property.

•learned the city recently let photographers rent the civic center for prom photos during rain storms over the weekend. The city charged photographers $20 to rent the space and Thomas said the initiative was successful.

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