Members of the Blacksburg community gathered Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Alexander Black House and Cultural Center.
“I’m very happy to say that the time for talking is over and the time for action is now,” said Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam to a standing-room crowd gathered in the atrium of Kent Square. “Today we gather to celebrate the next phase of turning our vision into a reality.”
Rordam recognized the project as one more step towards transforming Blacksburg into a regional cultural center.
The event, which had been scheduled to take place outside of the Alexander Black House just across the street, was moved indoors after rain and snow from the weekend left the original site unsuitable for the ceremony.
The sizeable crowd included area residents, alongside town council members and board members from the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation, all excited to witness the first step in the transformation of one of Blacksburg’s noted historical structures.
The gathering marked the culmination of more than ten years of effort on the part of local community members and volunteers to redevelop the house. More than a century old, the house was once inhabited by Blacksburg founder William Black’s great nephew Alexander Black.
The project will convert the home into a museum and community space that will host art exhibits, classes, workshops, and local events.
In 2002, the Town of Blacksburg purchased the Victorian dwelling and moved it to its current location on a hill overlooking Draper Road. Since the move, the house remained unused, as local organizations determined plans for its revitalization.
“We look forward to making the Alexander Black House a true community asset,” said Jim Rakes, the president of the non-profit Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation.
His organization, formed in 2010, developed the current plan and launched a capital campaign to fund the necessary renovations to transform the timeworn house into a bustling center of history, culture and the arts for the Blacksburg community.
During his remarks Tuesday at the groundbreaking, Rakes recognized the hard work of many volunteers with the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation in making the renovation of the historical structure possible.
In addition to serving the town upon completion, the renovation process is also expected to add jobs and help to bolster the local economy.
“Public-private partnerships put people to work locally and help our local economy grow,” said Mike Snyder, vice president of Snyder & Associates, the general contractor for the site. His team will reach out to local businesses and subcontractors to help complete the project.
A native of Blacksburg, Snyder is excited to be a part of the redevelopment. His company was also involved with renovations to Cassell Coliseum.
“Growing up in Blacksburg, I remember the Alexander Black House as a centerpiece of Downtown," Snyder said. "My family and I value the history of the community."
Rakes expressed hope that members of the Virginia Tech community would visit and make use of the new public space. He said that Tech President Charles W. Steger had been very helpful throughout the planning process as a campaign supporter and chair. Rakes said that he would like to see Tech events take place at the Alexander Black House once restoration is complete.
“We just hope that students will see the building up on the hill and see it turn into a real house,” Rakes said. “It will be a part of the town of Blacksburg and we hope they will see it as an improvement on the place where they live.”
While work will begin on the renovation soon, more donations are needed to fully fund the work necessary to complete the restoration of the entire building.
Those interested in donating should visit Blacksburg’s website at www.blacksburg.gov.
Follow this writer on Twitter @KulakCT