Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Creating Bright Center, Part I

In 2005, my husband and I bought a vast, dilapidated building in the middle of Old Town Winchester. People thought we were crazy, not just because the building needed a lot of work, but because downtown Winchester had struggled economically since Leggetts and JC Penney and the other department stores had gone to the Apple Blossom Mall in the 70s and 80s, leaving the downtown nearly empty.
But Aldo and I had always loved Old Town Winchester -- we often came to visit on weekends, strolling down the pedestrian mall, gazing up at the architecture, enjoying the historical sites, chatting with locals, and eating at one of the little restaurants. Certainly many of the shops were closed and when the sun went behind a cloud, the place seemed shabby, but we felt certain that with some time and TLC, this beautiful downtown would thrive again. And we felt confident that buying and transforming the old Leggett building, which sat in the center of the downtown across from the Courthouse, would help move things along.
We had our hands full. Parts of the building had not been occupied in 30 years and the rest needed serious upgrades. Our goal was to create a place where a high-tech media company from Washington DC would feel at home while still maintaining the connection with historic Winchester . . . the ultimate in blending the old with the new and coming up with something that would inspire others to transform their own buildings and see Winchester as the gem that it is.
The first thing we did was change the name of the building . . . everyone knew it as the old Leggett building, the place where they'd bought their Boy Scout clothes or got their ears pierced when they were a kid (great), the place that left the Old Town for greener pastures (not so great). We changed the name to Bright Center to help people see a bright future rather than an abandoned past, and to create a theme for the building, which we envisioned to be a place full of bright people, colorful shops, energy and creativity.
The name was the beginning of a grand project in creating Place. (Marilyn Finnemore)

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