Historic building to “rise from the ashes” with new community project

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MOUNT AIRY, Md (WDVM) — A historic building in Mount Airy hasn’t quite stood the test of time, but local officials and volunteers are working on a revival mission to turn the space into a community hub. 

The First National Bank building has stood on the corner of downtown Mount Airy since 1930. 

According to locals, it hasn’t aged well. 

“I live about a mile down the street. I drive past this [building] two or three times a day. It’s an eyesore, it really is,” said longtime resident and town volunteer, James Stargel. 

Broken windows are boarded up, trees are overgrown, and rubble surrounds the former bank that officials say has been vacant for nearly 30 years. 

“It’s stuck in time, in some time in the past,” remarked president of the Mount Airy Arts Alliance, Katie Giganti. 

But plans are in the works to revive the space. 

“We’re going to get the clock tower fixed, like back to the future, you’ll be able to see the time,” Stargel said. 

Town mayor Pat Rockinberg tapped Stargel and Giganti to update the exterior of the building to form an outdoor community space, dubbed the Phoenix project.

“We’re going to have this building rise from the ashes to make it look really good,” Stargel said. 
 The volunteer-based project includes trading rotting window boards for public art created by three local artists. 

“It’ll be really fun, trompe l’oeil windows with some fun cats and characters in front of them. It’s really supposed to be fun and interactive too,” Giganti explained.

And in the front building window, adhesive vinyl will cast a reflection of what the downtown area looked like decades ago. The artwork will include a reflection of the Mount Airy Milling Company, which Giganti explained was located just next door. 

Volunteers are currently at work creating an outdoor fire place. Overgrown vines will soon be removed, Giganti explains, and the bank’s former drive-through window will be transformed into a performance stage. 

“The hope is too that this space will be used for community functions,” said Giganti, “Taking advantage of this space so that people during this time, this weird time we’re living in with the virus, have a space to be outside and enjoy it.”

The space is privately owned and on the market, Giganti explained. If the space is purchased, the town aims to relocate benches and other materials to local parks.

Plans are to gather even more volunteers to complete the project on August 8th for an opening ceremony the following day.

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