A proposed culinary institute in Mount Airy was hailed as a great opportunity for local residents to gain valuable job skills such as learning to become chefs — but that plan is now off the city government’s menu.
The school had been envisioned for a section of the former Spencer’s textile mill property downtown known as the “Cube Building,” on the heels of the former industrial complex being acquired by the city government in 2014.
Its efforts to redevelop the old Spencer’s structures have been met with mixed success, yet there were high hopes for the endeavor on the table for the culinary school.
This effectively has been devoured by bad luck surrounding grant-seeking efforts by the Piedmont Triad Regional Council in order to make that project a reality. The regional council is a Kernersville-based alliance of local government units — about 75 altogether, including Mount Airy — which partners with its member localities on economic-development and other initiatives.
The plans for the culinary institute hinged on the outcome of a $3.5 million grant application submitted to the federal Economic Development Administration by the regional council on Mount Airy’s behalf during the winter. The administration provides funding for infrastructure, facilities, planning, feasibility studies and similar projects to improve regional economies, which conforms to the idea for re-purposing the Cube Building.
Council officials had envisioned a facility to train students in need of employment opportunities for chef and other high-paying jobs in the area restaurant industry — while supplying it with needed personnel. Plans for the school also included a catering component that would generate revenues, along with a workforce development center operated by Surry Community College.
However, the failure of that grant application has left the proposed culinary school dead in the water.
“That’s exactly what it means,” said Steve Yokeley, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners who serves as the municipality’s representative on the Piedmont Triad Regional Council.
“Unfortunately, they’ve done everything they can,” Yokeley said of efforts by that organization to obtain funding for the culinary project. “They’ve tried for four different grants.”
This included earlier being turned down for one of $1.5 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency established to aid economically distressed communities in the area historically known as Appalachia.
“It just unfortunately didn’t work out,” Yokeley added, lamenting the fact that the culinary institute represented a great opportunity for local residents. “Jobs especially, and there (were) some other ideas of things that could be done, also.”
In view of the latest grant denial, Yokeley and the other city commissioners voted during a meeting Thursday night to terminate a memorandum of understanding agreement with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council. It had been forged in April 2019 to facilitate plans for the Cube Building.
An official resolution approved by the commissioners includes wording in which “both parties agree that all options for funding have been exhausted.”
“So rather than pursue it any further, I think it’s a mutual agreement to just drop it where it is,” Yokeley said.
Although this could be viewed as just the latest spoiling of the broth surrounding Mount Airy’s redevelopment of the former Spencer’s holdings which has been plagued by numerous setbacks, it might prove beneficial in a sense.
“There may be some other developers that are interested in that part of the property,” Yokeley said. “I hope so.”
Thursday night’s action to terminate the agreement with the regional group frees up Mount Airy to explore other options for the Cube Building.
Discussion during the meeting indicated that its availability will make other parts of the Spencer’s site more attractive.
“It’s very disappointing,” Yokeley added regarding the failed culinary institute proposal.
“But we’ll keep trying.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.