Historic commission approves changes

Published 7:44 pm Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Historic Landmarks Commission on Thursday gave its stamp of approval to façade changes at 118 W. Washington St., where a couple hopes to open a performing arts school.

Joyce and Arthur Tasby have owned the school, named Young People’s Guild School of Performing Arts, on High Street in Portsmouth since 1971. The property was recently taken by the eminent domain process for the Downtown Tunnel project, so the couple sought another location and recently purchased the building in downtown Suffolk, which is about 100 years old.

The school would give lessons in piano and other instruments, voice, modeling and dance, Joyce Tasby said. Lessons would be individualized or for small groups and are offered to all ages.

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“I was drawn to Suffolk, because I saw it was a growing city, and I saw a need for the youth, teens and adolescents, as well as the adults.”

The proposed changes to the façade include installing recessed wood panels over the existing storefront wall tile and a new soffit under the existing metal entrance overhang, as well as new paint on parts of the trim.

Two people spoke against the proposal, saying they don’t mind the use of the building but that the changes to the façade do not go far enough.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Andy Damiani, who owns other buildings on the block. “It’s not pretty, and it’s not safe. I would hope that the applicant would take it down. Once you start tinkering with the façade, you’ve got to do it all.”

Sue Woodward, a member of the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society, agreed with Damiani.

“People are trying so hard to bring downtown back now,” Woodward said. “I hope you will work with the applicants and try to help them.”

City staff recommended approval of the request, and it passed 5-2.

Tasby said she plans to apply for a façade grant through the Economic Development Authority, which gives matching grants up to $10,000 for property owners that improve the look of their buildings in certain areas of the city.

“I believe in excellence and greatness,” Tasby said. “I’m not bringing a five-cent school here, and I want you to know that.

“Both of us want the same thing — the best for the community,” she added, referring to herself and Damiani.