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Posted: May 1, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Renovated and ready to go

Historic Porterdale gym to open May 8

Submitted Photo/

An important piece of Porterdale’s history is set to begin its revival.

The historic Porter Memorial Gymnasium will have its official ribbon cutting at 1:30 p.m., May 8 at the gym, 2201 Main Street, Porterdale, with a ribbon cutting and tours of the renovated facility.

The gym was built in 1938 – a gift from the Bibb Manufacturing Company to its textile mill workers – and served as one of Porterdale’s central gathering spots for decades. The building was designed by female architect Ellamae Ellis League, and Porterdale Main Street Manager Teri Haler is trying to get some of League’s relatives to attend the ribbon cutting to add their historic perspective.

Three quarters of a century after it was first built, city officials hope the gym will reprise its role as community anchor, but in a different way. The gymnasium won’t be open to the public on a daily basis, but it is going to be marketed as an event venue, and Haler said she hopes the facility will become a revenue maker for the city.

Popular destination
Given it’s 12,000 square foot size and the fact Porterdale allows such special events venues to sell beer, wine and liquor at events, Haler hopes it will become a popular choice for weddings, receptions, reunions, concerts and other community events.

Haler is still working on the rental rate structure, but she envisions charging around $1,800-$2,000 for an event rental, which she said is competitive with other venues in the area that allow alcohol sales.

“It’s probably going to be Porterdale’s primary revenue generator,” Haler said, other than property taxes and water sales. “We don’t have hotel/motel tax (income) like Covington. We have water utilities, but it’s not like having your own electricity revenue. It’s really going to be a draw, and we’re going to try to promote and market it. It’s a fairly large venue in the county.”

Main Street programs generally get city funding, but they also are often supplemented by hotel/motel taxes, which are only charged to hotel and motel stays and can only be used to support tourism initiatives, something Porterdale officials have no shortage of as they look to build off the city’s mill town history and river recreation opportunities.

Reimagined as an open-air center – fully rebuilding the facility could have cost $4.1 million, as opposed to its approved $950,000 renovation price tag – the gymnasium had its walls fortified by Garbutt Construction. The gymnasium was largely destroyed in an Oct. 20, 2005 fire, but the construction works ensures it will stay standing for a long time to come.

Since the bracing of the walls and foundation was completed in January, the city has been working to get the building into event venue shape, including staining the building’s concrete, building a 16-foot deep by 32-foot wide stage, installing audio-visual infrastructure, landscaping the outside and decorating the inside, including furnishing the small kitchen/catering room and the waiting/green room. Those two rooms along with the men’s and restrooms are the four areas of the building that are fully covered and have heating and air conditioning.

Already booked
The gym – Haler is still working on a title more appropriate for an event venue – is already booked for three events, including a fundraiser Sunday for U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn. The evening after the groundbreaking will play host to a private Smart Growth Newton County dinner, which is meant to show off the renovated center.

Finally, the gym will also be the site of welcome news for Porterdale residents, as Chairman Keith Ellis said the county is hosting an event to announce the state has signed off for work to begin at the intersection of Ga. Highway 81 and the Covington Bypass/Crowell roads, one of the county’s most hated. The meeting will be at 3 p.m., May 14.

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