“I had lots of ideas for the building,” hay farmer and Stonewall-Hawthorne county supervisor Chris Parrish said Wednesday, speaking of the River District Arts building which three weeks ago he’d offered to buy for $1.1 million from former Rappahannock residents Jerome and Lucille Niessen — who’d accepted the offer.
“Problem was,” he added, “my ideas were more idealistic than they were pragmatic. And no matter what I came up with, it wasn’t going to pay the mortgage.”
Thus, late last week, Parrish said he took one of several “outs” built into the sales contract. And the artists — some 18 potters, printmakers, painters and photographers who rent studio and gallery space from RDA itself, plus the 22 members of the decades-old nonprofit Middle Street Gallery artists’ cooperative adjacent to the converted apple packing shed — are dealing again with disappointment.
And with getting their stuff into boxes by July 1.
“I don’t know why the stars just wouldn’t align on this,” said potter Sara Adams, who’d been representing the artists in dealing with the Niessens, who are on their way to Africa, where Jerome Niessen is on an extended work assignment for an international renewable-energy company. Without a buyer, the Niessens told tenants several months ago that they planned to mothball the building by August.
“Robert Archer had a plan,” said Adams, speaking of the first serious potential buyer to negotiate with the Niessens in their year-long quest to sell the large exposed-beam shed — which, by 2011, they had renovated into an attractive, Torpedo Factory-like artists’ studio and gallery space with a full-service restaurant. “But Archer wouldn’t accept that it was worth more than a million dollars, and I guess that Jerome and Lucille thought it was worth more than that, and dug in their heels. And now this.”
“I’ve had a lot of artists imploring me to change my mind,” said Parrish. “And one of them, her final argument to me was that the rent paid by the artists almost covered expenses — but it turned out she meant it almost covered the utilities. But you have insurance, real estate taxes, and from what I estimated, to make the necessary improvements to the [unimproved] upstairs, for possible office space, there was probably $300,000 in work.”
Middle Street’s Gary Anthes said the artists’ cooperative is still not sure of its future — beyond the show opening this weekend up the road at Haley Fine Art, whose owner Andrew Haley agreed to host Middle Street’s collaboration with Shenandoah National Park Trust, a multimedia celebration of the park service’s 100th anniversary (see the story on page A2).
“Some miracle could appear at the last minute,” Anthes said, “but it’s already past the last minute.”
There’s a chance Middle Street could disband, Anthes said, but the cooperative members are exploring “a lengthy list of places we could go, and a short list of interesting ideas” in hopes of having another home base by this fall.
“Now that we really think we have to find something,” Anthes said, “we will get our act together and pursue it.”
Adams said some artists will be moving to studio/gallery space at Ginger Hill Antiques; others, including members of Old Rag Photography, to Eric Kvarnes’ Glassworks Gallery. Other options being explored are the Sperryville Emporium, vacant for a couple of years, and the also-empty lower-level space in Cliff Miller’s schoolhouse annex, which has been a home to Rae’s Place restaurant and Heritage Hollow’s farm store.