By Marty Trese, KnoxPages.com Editor
MOUNT VERNON - The latest downtown building to be transformed and repurposed thanks to the financial backing of Ariel CEO Karen Wright and a host of local donors was dedicated Thursday evening. Formerly known as the Buckeye Candy building, it is now the Wright Center and is owned by Kenyon College. The center is named in honor of Karen Wright's children and their spouses, all Kenyon graduates.
Kenyon joins Mount Vernon Nazarene University's Buchwald Center and Central Ohio Technical College's Ariel Hall to form an education corridor on South Main Street.
The Wright Center, an 18,000 square foot space, is now home to Kenyon's film program and the college's Office for Community Partnerships. The Kelser-Dowds Company opened the building at 400 W. Main street for its wholesale grocery business in 1910. The brick, concrete and steel structure was built to be fireproof. The floors sloped to make it easier to wash them down with water which emptied out of the building through openings in the walls and the building was positioned beside a railway spur running on Howard Street, easing deliveries.
In the late 1960's the building was sold to the Buckeye Candy and Tobacco Company, a family-owned business that would supply a variety of wholesale goods to the area for 35 years. Mount Vernon Mayor Dick Mavis, during his remarks at the dedication, said that he remembers buying big boxes of M & M's as a child there. Knox County businessman Mark Ramser bought the building in 2004 with an eye on its preservation. At one time it was hoped the space could be used for an indoor farmer's market, but that plan didn't work out.
Ramser put a new roof on the space so that it would remain dry. Kenyon acquired the building in 2015 with support form the Ariel Foundation, the Community Foundation of Mount Vernon & Knox County and from gifts by private donors. Renovation design was by the Gund Partnership and the Columbus-based construction firm Elford Inc.
The Wright Center at 400 S. Main in Mount Vernon - KP Photo by Marty Trese
The first floor will eventually become the new home to SPI (formerly SPIspot, a non-profit where science and play intersect. SPI offers children a fun place to experience science throughout the school year and during summer camps.
Kenyon's Office for Comunity Partnerships, headed by Jennifer Odenweller, fosters collaboration between Kenyon and Knox County to address issues of common interest. Through this office, Kenyon works with local organizations, institutions and businesses to support community life while advancing the mission of the college to provide a fulfilling liberal arts education and promote civic responsiblity.
Visitors checked out the the Kenyon Office for Community Partherships before the dedication of the Wright Center - KP Photo
Kenyon's film program, now based at the Wright Center is part of the Department of Dance, Drama and Film.
Jonathan Sherman, Kenyon Association Professor of Film, said the goal is to make Kenyon a top-ten film program. Drama professor Jonathan Tazewell said, "No matter how fast technology changes filmmaking in our program has always been about storytelling, which is what made it [film major] a logical addition to the Kenyon long tradition of storytelling."
The college will make the space, with state-of-the-art equipment, available for rent for filmmakers during the summer months.
Classroom in the Wright Center - KP Photo
Wright spoke about the plans that have come together to transform the Buckeye Buiding, as well as COTC's Ariel Hall, MVNU's Buchwald Center, the Grand Hotel, Ariel Foundation Park, the B & O depot, C-A & C depot, the Kokosing Gap Trail, and soon, the remodeled Alcove Restaurant. All of these projects could not have happened without Wright's vision and financial backing. She thanked those who partnered with her to develop all these projects. She also expressed her thanks to those who are working together for the Woodward Opera House construction/restoration project.
Wright said the Woodward is a "lovely and unique building that will charm both the natives and visitors for many generations."
Wright also thanked Kenyon president Sean Decatur for "Joining the party downtown and bringing such a nice party favor."
"When you think about all the things we have here in Mount Vernon, it is starting to be a pretty special town," said Wright.
At the conclusion of the dedication ceremony Decatur unveiled a wooden model of the Wright Center and presented it to Wright and her family.