MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s purchase of the Sewing Center building on South Main Street has many local officials optimistic about what it means to downtown Mount Vernon.
The structure is connected to the old Stage building, which has been acquired by MVNU and is undergoing renovation for use by its visual arts program. Plans for the sewing center building are still under development.
Both buildings were owned by local businessman Mark Ramser. The Stage building was donated to MVNU by Mark and Denise Ramser; the Sewing Center building was purchased by the university.
“I think both MVNU and COTC are going to be a big advantage to have downtown as anchors in the positive sense of anchors because they are going to be there for a long time to come,” Mark Ramser said. “In addition to being a boost to downtown, bringing people downtown, just the educational opportunities associated with each building will be invaluable. I am looking forward to when both those projects are completed and I am sure they will have a positive spin-off effect on businesses downtown.”
The presence of a large number of MVNU students in the downtown area is being seen as a big plus by city officials. Mount Vernon City Council President John Booth is excited about the move.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m excited about them coming in there. We’re always looking for things to fill up the downtown, but I think this is going to be good for the city because we have COTC down there and they’re not adversaries at all. They work together, so having the college move down there can’t do anything but help the downtown area.”
Booth had nothing but praise for MVNU and what it has meant to the area over the years.
“The Nazarene College has been great for Mount Vernon ever since it came here,” he said. “The economic impact it has had in our community is unbelievable.”
First Ward Councilman Burt Hanson thinks the presence of MVNU downtown will present a cultural as well as economic boost.
“Well, you’d hope it would turn South Main Street, south of Gambier Street, into an arts and crafts center,” Hanson said. “It’s really important that the big spaces downtown be full. That would be an appropriate use for the building. You would always hope that something like Macy’s or Kohl’s would come in, but I think the realists amongst us realize that’s not going to happen. I would say it’s a great alternative usage for that big space there. What better use for a big space than an art space?”
Lynne Ricard, downtown manager of the Heritage Centre Association, is optimistic about MVNU’s downtown presence and the possibilities it offers.
“I know they are working on developing something retail,” she said. “Something to reach not only the Nazarene students but COTC, and possibly working with Kenyon to sell merchandise that is branded for the colleges as well as servicing them with books and getting other retail involved as well. They also have that third floor that can be renovated to add more classroom space for their adult and graduate studies and for the art program. They will definitely be bringing people downtown and things will be looking bright. I am very optimistic.”
The acquisition of the two buildings by MVNU signals a significant commitment to downtown Mount Vernon by the university. MVNU President Dr. Daniel Martin explained the importance of the university’s presence in downtown Mount Vernon.
“We’ve been talking a variety of concepts,” Martin said. “Whether in partnership with COTC exploring what needs they may have in terms of a book store, or a textbook service of some type on the first floor of the Sewing Center, and what we may be able to provide for the community in that location.
Martin said the top floor of the Sewing Center would probably be used for educational purposes and the first two floors would be for retail and community use. The university is still looking into several scenarios, however.
“So it’s really about securing it for our potential growth and enhancement of what we do, but also looking at ways we can continue to enhance the community of Knox County,” said Martin.