Economic driver: Cornelius hires arts center director


June 7. By Dave Yochum. After a nationwide search, the nascent Cornelius Arts and Community Center has a new executive director, and they found him close to home. Justin Dionne, who was a consultant to the Cornelius Arts Center last year, was the managing artistic director of the highly successful Lee Street Theater in Salisbury.

He left Salisbury last year to pursue a master’s degree at Florida State University, but was wooed back to North Carolina by the team at the citizen-driven Arts Center, a 501(c)3 that will build and run a multimillion-dollar arts center just to the east of the Police Station downtown.

Dionne could not be reached for comment, but he is already working out of a temporary cubicle at Cornelius Town Hall.

Denis Bilodeau, an arts center board member and chair of the marketing committee,  said: ” Justin is a very talented, high-energy young man. His skills and broad experience at Lee Street Theater will translate well to our exciting project.”

​Dionne will help with the fundraising process, and ultimately lead the multimillion-dollar arts center independently from the town. The town has paid $1.495 million for the property; the facility, when completed, is expected to be a significant economic driver for downtown and for Cornelius. Across the country, arts districts have helped attract new business and well-heeled crowds.

Greg Wessling, the chairman of the board of directors for the Cornelius Arts and Community Center, ​said the arts center, along with a proposed downtown arts district—​picture ​cafes, shops and galleries—​is ​“the most exciting project Cornelius has ever had the chance to be a part of.”


Cornelius ​voters ​helped paint the picture: In 2013 ​they ​approved a $20.4 million bond package of which $4 million was earmarked for town center redevelopment including the arts center.

​In the past six months, the town has​ paid $1.5 million for the old Farmers Co. warehouse property​, which includes an original, century-old cotton gin which is expected to be preserve​d​ and ​incorporated​ in the new arts center.

​Architects are already lining up to design the center, which will be the cultural centerpiece of North Mecklenburg.​

Groundbreaking is expected to begin ​around​ the third quarter of ​next year​ with the grand opening ​about a year later.

The arts center​ ​will be a “public-private endeavor” with the town of Cornelius serving as ​the landlord, Wessling said.



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