The historic First National Bank building in Mount Airy has stood vacant and unoccupied for nearly 20 years.
But now, the town officials and volunteers hope to convert the barren and empty parking lot surrounding the building into a thriving community gathering place.
The First National Bank occupied the old bank building, located on the corner of North Main Street and Prospect Road, until 1960, and it was home to the Farmer and Mechanics National Bank until 2001, according to a plaque displayed at the building.
Since then, the surrounding property has remained unoccupied and the building itself has deteriorated. The area has been in need of a major renovation, according to James Stargel, chairman of the Mount Airy Recycling and Sanitation Commission.
“You have vines growing up, you have windows that are broken, you have trees that are popping up out of the sidewalks,” he said. “So we decided, since it’s the last business on the northern end of the town of Mount Airy, that we wanted to clean it up.”
Stargel hopes the town can convert the parking lot into a safe outdoor venue for community events such as the annual Spring Fling and the fall festival. He said the venue can also be utilized by local businesses and organizations that are interested in using the space by potentially holding events or setting up vendors.
According to Stargel, the volunteer-based project will add new picnic tables, fire pits, planters, window art, and more to beautify the space and attract publicity to the downtown area.
The beautification plan, outlined on the Mount Airy government’s website, calls for old windows to be patched up, broken parking lot bumpers to be replaced, light poles to be painted and invasive trees on the property to be torn down to make room for new amenities. Fencing is also planned to be added alongside the property to make the space safer.
“Now this gives people an extra area in which they can go and they can park, and they’ll be able to sit and eat their meals. We can have some other community events there, too,” said Stargel, who also mentioned that the weekly farmers market, which is held every Wednesday, might be able to move to the new space.
According to Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg, the pop-up park comes at a critical time when the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay in their homes in order to protect themselves from the virus.
While those who will be using the park will be expected to wear masks and practice social distancing, Rockinberg said he believes the space will give residents the opportunity to venture outside of their homes into a safe and engaging environment.
“That open area is so much more critical now with the virus and with the need for us to stay outside where it is definitely safer,” said Rockinberg, who added that he was a big proponent of people interacting outside as opposed to indoors.
The project will be mostly conducted by community members through donated time and supplies.
Rockinberg said there were about 50 or so people involved in the project, including local businesses such as Ace Hardware, Seven Springs Landscaping Inc., and Reed and Son Services LLC, that are donating supplies and materials for the space.
The Mount Airy Town Council, Mount Airy Arts Council and Mount Airy Beautification Commission are also involved in the project, and have contributed to planning and volunteering.
The pop-up space is slated to be completed by Aug. 9, when a ribbon-cutting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Stargel said.
Stargel hopes the space will bring people together in a time when community involvement is more important than ever.
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“The population of the town of Mount Airy is resilient. They like to volunteer and they like to pitch in, so this gives everybody an opportunity to get out of their houses now and do a little bit of community work,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”