A! Magazine for the Arts

Improvements on Stonewall Square include the expansion of the Barter Caf? and Stage II.

Improvements on Stonewall Square include the expansion of the Barter Caf? and Stage II.

Downtown Economic Development: a Hot Topic in Abingdon

February 26, 2008

What are your dreams for Barter in the next 10 years? What has happened to the vision for the Stonewall Square development? For a third theater?

The largest answer to that question is the Baby Boomers. I believe we have some difficult years ahead until the Boomers begin to hit their 70s. There's a long explanation for that ?- too long for me to answer here. But we have some tough times ahead for a couple of years, not in terms of survival, more in terms of being able to grow.

The third theatre will become a reality. We are not ready for it yet. We have to get more of our infrastructure and our financial house in better order for us to be able to take on a third space. It would literally kill us to do so now. We are developing plans over the next several months to prepare us for the future. We are in a good position now to begin the move up the next mountain to climb. With the proper planning and appropriate improvement in our position, we can move to the next summit.

I'd be remiss if I did not say that Stonewall Square and the development of buildings on the property is not my biggest disappointment to date. Our research and focus groups have proven that we should have built this when we wanted to six or seven years ago. However, we could not find the partner, and the property is too small to attract developers who want too much return on their dollar. It's unfortunate as this development is absolutely essential to Barter's future and to the future of Abingdon's downtown. Barter cannot and should not do this project on its own. We are not developers. It is not our mission to do so. We must have a partner if we are to succeed on this. I believe that, given time and the right partnership, we will make this happen. Patience, right now, is the key. In the meantime, we have improved Barter, Abingdon and our property in ways that no one would ever have believed possible.

Leaders & Mentors Influential in Barter's Success

During your tenure at Barter, who have been the Board members, political and community leaders who have been most influential in Barter's continued success, and perhaps have been mentors to you personally?

Again, there have been a lot and I hate picking out favorites, if for no other reason than someone is inevitably going to be left out who should have been included in this answer.

I don't think you can discuss the Barter Board of Trustees without talking about Fillmore McPherson, who was President of the Barter Board of Trustees (then known as the Board of Directors) from Robert Porterfield's death in 1971 until 1995, when Fillmore's health no longer permitted him to continue. One could truly make the argument that there would be no Barter Theatre following the death of Bob had it not been for the leadership of Fillmore. He was really, in many ways, the last of a generation of solid, stalwart, southern gentlemen. I really cannot say enough about him. He supported me in every way possible when I was hired to run Barter. While ultimately conservative, as all Board Members should really be, he supported my vision and gave me every ounce of encouragement that he could give. In the 20 years prior, Fillmore was a one-man band of advocacy and fundraising for Barter. He taught me more about patience and how to be supportive than anyone I had ever worked for or with previously.

Following Fillmore was Howard McElroy, President of the Barter Board of Trustees from 1996 to 2000. Howard is still a close friend and advisor and has rotated back on the Board today. Howard was a great leader for growth. Immensely encouraging, extremely thorough and thoughtful, Howard brought both growth and foresight to the leadership of the Board. He really brought excellent organizational change to the Board, all for the benefit of the future of Barter. Howard's greatest contribution to Barter was instituting a culture of growth with the proper support structure to keep Barter moving forward for future generations. He is a worker, a passionate advocate and an excellent leader. Howard taught me a great deal about asking the right questions and listening for the best answers. Howard is a great detail man for which I am eternally grateful.

Following Howard was Alex Anderson, who served as President from 2001 through 2004. Alex is also a great friend whom I admire deeply. Alex probably did more to help Barter recruit and retain high quality employees than any other person involved with Barter. Alex really taught me more about the value of our employees, the needs and techniques for high quality communication, and the necessity to keep life and work in perspective. He has a real passion for loving your work and living life that is certainly infectious. He also helped me understand better the dynamics of managing growth and managing our Board in extremely productive ways. Alex has also rotated back on the Barter Board and still serves as a valued trustee and advisor. He is amazingly adept at managing difficult situations.

Currently Tom Fowlkes is in his four-year term as the President of the Board. Tom is truly one of the most giving human beings with whom I have ever had the pleasure to be associated. He has given more to this community than many and expected less in return than any. At his core, Tom has taught me the good use of gentleness and compromise (as you might imagine, my instinct is usually the most aggressive solution). But Tom has taught me to temper that instinct with more empathy. Tom is also a great advocate and really intelligent at knowing when to press forward on conflict and when to step back and compromise. I think his background in both sports and as a lawyer allows him to do that. He is always honest, trustworthy and forthright; an absolute standup human being of impeccable integrity. Tom has really helped Barter solidify its infrastructure for future success. And his respect within the community and the region has been extremely beneficial for Barter.

Those are the leaders of the Barter Board who have been most influential and had the greatest impact.

I don't think you can talk about Barter's Board without speaking about Jim Jones, currently a Federal Court Judge who served on Barter's Board for many years. Jim is a man of great intelligence and wisdom who is a perfect example of a Southern gentleman. Part of the reason I took the job here at Barter was because Jim was on the recruiting committee, and I was immensely impressed with his personal and professional integrity.

Frank DeFriece certainly is to be commended for his financial leadership and his tremendous guidance. I cannot say enough good things about Frank's role in Barter. I respect him as much as I have respected anyone. He, along with Jim and Fillmore, are certainly to be credited as a team for Barter's continued existence.

Betsy Boyd, who has served Barter as a Trustee, rotating on and off the Board for more than 30 years, is to be commended for her service. She is extremely supportive and compassionate and an opinion that I have grown to trust greatly over the years.

Ed Yates is a reliable friend and advisor. Ed has taught me almost everything I know about marketing and is probably one of the most savvy marketing and tourism people I have had the pleasure to know.

Our likely future president, Jack Dempsey, is a great guy, good manager, passionate, trustworthy, every good adjective you could give to someone. Most importantly, Jack is a doer. He gets things done. I'm looking forward to my years ahead working with Jack.

There have probably been others, but these are the highlights, certainly.

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