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Cornelius News

Cain Center will buy historic properties downtown

A four-lot parcel along Catawba Avenue at School Street was listed at $1.6 million.

March 22. By Dave Yochum. Cain Center for the Arts has three parcels of land at the corner of School Street and Catawba Avenue under contract for an undisclosed amount. The prime site contains three folk Victorian-style homes, two of which the Cain Center will save.

One of them will be used for a ceramic center, while the corner property, said to be in poor condition, will be torn down.

The corner property could be used for an urban park at least temporarily, said Justin Dionne, executive director of the Cain Center.

The properties, owned by Jennifer Beard and the Howard Legacy Trust, were originally listed at $1.6 million, with a fourth parcel included (bottom left in the illustration). It is not part of this deal.

The three houses date back to the early 1900s when Cornelius was starting a second life as a mill town.

Mayor Washam

They’re near the center of the prime redevelopment area of Cornelius.

Mayor Washam said he was thrilled. “This is a wonderful enhancement of our downtown arts district and arts programming in our town,” he said.

Preserve Mecklenburg played a role

Preserve Mecklenburg played a key role in the rescue of the houses. PMI obtained a one-year option to purchase the properties, which are near the agricultural building on the grounds of the Cornelius Elementary School where town officials hope to house a museum for local artifacts and photos of buildings that are no more.

PMI led the effort to save the historic tenant house at the 55-acre Alexander Farm, where a $100-million-plus mixed-use project is under construction.


The news comes as the Cain Center prepares to move the Cornelius Arts Center (CAC) out of the Oak Street Mill this summer. The CAC functioned as a home for community arts, ceramics and shows dating back to 2009.

Cornelius Parks & Recreation operated the CAC from 2011 until the transition to the Cain Center in 2021.

The ceramics program, which was years ago thought to be the “Nutcracker” or major draw of the would-be arts center, will be suspended and ultimately move to one of the historic homes under contract on Catawba.

Justin Dionne


“Not only will this opportunity deepen our commitment to ceramics, but it will also allow us to continue in our commitment to the revitalization of the downtown Arts and Cultural District,” Dionne said.

A zoning change will be necessary, but town officials say they support the plan.


Dionne said the Cain Center will seek private donors to help fund the acquisition. The contract purchase price was not disclosed.