Arts Association to celebrate grand opening again on Washington Street

COVINGTON, Ga. - Almost 64 years ago, an exciting grand opening was held for a newly-constructed brick and glass building at 1169 Washington St., one block off the Covington Square. On Nov. 16, another grand opening will be held for that same brick and glass building, and there is excitement once again.

Arts Association

The leaking roof now has a state-of-the-art membrane. Brand new storefront panels have replaced boarded and broken glass. Gone is the rotten, peeling wood under the awning. Original decades-old exterior lights have been rewired and now illuminate the perimeter. Over the last few months, a dramatic transformation has taken place with the renovation and expansion of the once vacant retail building on Washington Street. Dilapidated has become dazzling.

Although many know it as the former farmers and artisans Square Market that operated for 10 years, the Washington Street building was originally constructed for the Colonial Stores Supermarket that opened in Covington on Thursday, January 14, 1954.

The grand opening was described as evidence of Covington’s growth. Located on the entire city block between Washington, Reynolds, Hendricks and Brown Streets, the new supermarket contained a complete grocery, frozen foods and meat department. Called one of the “finest supermarkets in any city this size in the state,” the 1954 Covington store had “every modern shopping convenience”—air conditioning, slim line fluorescent lighting, “easy-glide” carts and “magic carpet” automatic exit doors to aid shoppers in leaving the store with large packages, as well as plenty of free parking.

Additional features included “speedy” conveyor checkout stands for quick customer sales, self-service display cases, and two relatively new departments – housewares and health and beauty – that were intended to give customers “one-stop shopping for their needs.”

In 1966, the Colonial Stores supermarket, now a Big Star grocery, left the Washington Street site for a new building on Emory Street that is now Lendmark Financial Services. A&P grocery took over the Washington Street location, adding the characteristic pointed metal signboard on the roof.

In the late 1960s, former Covington mayor and optometrist Dr. William L. Dobbs, along with former mayor Walker Harris, purchased the Washington Street property when A&P moved out. Dollar General occupied the building during the 1970s until 1986 when the retailer moved to a newly-completed shopping center complex on Highway 278 that is now anchored by Food Depot. In the early 1990s, Dr. Dobbs became the sole owner of the Washington Street building, leasing the facility to the Square Market until 2010. After that, the building sat empty, waiting for a new purpose.

When Dr. Dobbs passed away in 2014, his family was left with a decision to renovate the building or perhaps tear it down because of its disrepair. Three respected contractors evaluated the Washington Street building, and all reported it to be structurally sound. In fact, the building, with the exception of the roof, was completely solid thanks to over one-foot thick walls. After reviewing the proposals for renovation, Kevin Price Construction based in Athens was selected by the Dobbs’ family for the reasons of cost competitiveness, in-house ability to handle all phases of the project, and the capability to meet the very special challenges and unique features of this particular older building. It was a bonus that Kevin Price was a Newton County native, as well as a friend of the late Dr. Dobbs.  

The Dobbs family intended to pursue another retail tenant when the renovation was complete. However, the next chapter for the Washington Street building did not involve retail at all, but rather rehearsals, dance rehearsals to be exact. In early 2016, Executive Director Buncie Hay Lanners and the Arts Association in Newton County expressed their interest in consolidating and expanding their dance studios into the building, and a partnership was born. A new era for the sad building was about to begin.

Plans were drawn for the renovation as well as the expansion of the building to almost 10,000 total square feet. Bess Dobbs, granddaughter of Dr. Dobbs, directed the extensive project for her family and will assume ownership of the facility in 2018.

 “The renovation and expansion of the Washington Street building was a major undertaking and not a typical construction project,” Dobbs said. “Because of the building’s purpose and the very specialized finishes required by the Arts Association, extreme flexibility, creativity, and thoughtfulness were required from our contractor, Kevin Price, as well as all of his subcontractors. I would like to extend appreciation to Kevin, his son, Ben Price, who helped manage the project, and to Marvin King, the superintendent, who faithfully supervised progress every day.

 “My family and I greatly valued Kevin’s professionalism and his commitment to using as many Newton County subcontractors and suppliers as possible for the project. I personally want to thank Paul Green with Fireaway & Firetronics, LLC., Keith Battaglia with Moseley Electric, Buddy Adams and Eddie Powell with ACS, Josh Hardy with Hardy’s Floor Coverings, James Barthelemy with Precision Locksmith, Donnie Hamlin with Bec-Don Rebar Fabricating, and Chris Smith with Newton Electric. They were a pleasure to work with because of their willing attitudes and creative solutions. Kevin assembled a fantastic team.”

Dobbs went on to thank Jim Alexander of the law firm Alexander and Royston for serving as the catalyst to bring the Dobbs family and the Arts Association together into official partnership. Alexander, Dr. Dobbs’ nephew, summarized, “The Dobbs-Arts Association partnership is great collaboration for the community.” He also pointed out that consolidating and expanding the dance studios into the Washington Street facility with its dedicated parking for dance students and parents will open up more parking spaces on the Square that were previously occupied by the Arts Association. In addition, the building will potentially increase retail sales around the Square with parents and students shopping and eating before, during, and after classes, especially as the Arts Association’s programs grow.  

In addition to having a superb Executive Director in Buncie Hay Lanners, the Arts Association and the community as a whole are blessed to have Ashley and Peter Swan as Artistic Directors for the Covington Regional Ballet. As professional dancers and excellent instructors, Ashley and Peter are able to share their talents and expertise as well as an enthusiasm for the art of dance. Throughout the entire planning and construction process, Ashley and Peter were vital and became a significant element of the special partnership between the Dobbs family and the Arts Association. “From my perspective, every single member of the Arts Association staff demonstrated their dedication and willingness to work together for a common goal. They are truly wonderful people, and I have greatly enjoyed getting to know each of them,” stated Bess Dobbs.

The Arts Association began conducting classes in the newly renovated and expanded Washington Street building on October 16, 2017. Not only does the property offer an entire city block of parking to enable easy and safe access for parents and students, but great effort was put forth by the Dobbs family and the Arts Association to retain as many of the original features of the building as possible, giving the desired retro-industrial style.

Interior brick and Miami Stone have been left intact and exposed, original exterior lights were rewired and reinstalled, a ceiling fan bearing the small metal plate of the 1950s Colonial Stores Supermarket has been mounted in the lobby area, concrete floors were kept and simply sealed to tell the story of the past retail life, the storefront was restored with new glass panels, the signboard has been patched and painted, metal grates from the original rear windows have become wall hangings in the lobby and addition areas, and an exterior door was reworked to form the reception desk in the lobby.

More important than the form of the building is the functionality. The Washington Street location gives the Arts Association four large dance studios that facilitate training for the prestigious Covington Regional Ballet which draws students from eight surrounding counties and is recognized as one of the finest programs in the state. In addition to ballet, many other classes such as jazz, tap, and hip-hop are also offered. The new venue provides space for acting classes and adaptive movement classes for special needs, as well as great opportunity for potential future program offerings. Executive Director Lanners commented, “A former 1954 grocery store has been transformed into one of the finest training-teaching platforms in the state, and we are thrilled with the results.”

Fittingly, the newly renovated and expanded Washington Street facility will be called the Dr. William L. Dobbs Center for Performing Arts, or the Dobbs Center, to honor a man who demonstrated such strong community support, especially during his tenure as Covington’s longest-serving mayor. Bess Dobbs said, “My grandfather focused on endeavors to enhance the quality of life in this community. In fact, in 1991, he suggested the idea of forming the Newton County Community Band to T.K. Adams, and in 1993, it became a reality, so my grandfather’s relationship with the Arts Association ran very deep. My family is honored by the naming of this facility after Dr. Dobbs. He would be very pleased and proud to see this former grocery store transformed and given a new life in a way that enhances Covington and Newton County’s profile.”

After almost six decades, another exciting grand opening comes to the brick and glass building on Washington Street. On Thursday, Nov. 16, a Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting will be held at 11 a.m. and, coordinating with the Lighting of the Covington Square that evening, a drop-in Open House Celebration for the public will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be a photo booth with Nutcracker characters, a silent auction, hot chocolate and bake sale, tours of the new facility, and entertainment. The building at 1169 Washington St. is alive once more, this time with happy dancers instead of happy shoppers.