CORNELIUS – Years after envisioning Bella Love as a driving force to promote arts, culture and a sense of community in Cornelius, one month after the largest crowd yet – estimated at close to 7,000 people – participated in the latest ‘Tawba Walk” Arts and Music Festival, and just a few days before the sixth season of the popular spring-to-fall 2nd Friday Street Festival series begins, Case Warnemunde can’t help but wonder what happens next.

The 2nd Friday events – with 2019’s six-month run of monthly festivals set to start May 10 – and the ‘Tawba Walk celebrations have become Cornelius traditions. They attract people to “Old Town Cornelius” but, more importantly for Warnemunde, they simply bring people together.

“That’s what all of this has been about,” Warnemunde said. “The goal is, and has been, to enhance the community, the overall health of the community, not just focused on arts and culture, but revolving around community – bringing people together and providing events they want.

“Everything has evolved out of what the community wanted. Community organizations, businesses and individuals have a sense of being part of this. The foundation is in place, and we want to see where it will go. We want to be a part of expanding what we’ve done.”

The “we” in just about every Warnemunde sentence refers to a mix of places, people and partnerships.

In addition to Bella Love, which began slowly around 2013 to organize and raise awareness of events in the part of Cornelius east of Interstate 77, there’s Old Town Public House, Warnemunde’s bar and music venue he describes as “a place for people.”

Newer additions include Brick Row, a renovated section of the Oak Street Mill designed as a flex space for local gatherings or performances, and Studio 13, where local musicians can rehearse and explore new musical concepts.

There’s also the Cornelius Cultural Arts Group, the nonprofit formed in 2014 with a mission to support and promote a diverse range of arts, science and culture events designed not only as attractions, but as invitations for everyone to participate.

And now there’s the idea for an Old Town Cornelius nonprofit consisting of a team of community leaders branching into new promotional partnerships, with it all benefitting from the knowledge gained since Bella Love began.

The cultural future

The enhanced interest in what lies ahead is connected to the town’s project to develop the Cain Center for the Arts, a $25 million multi-purpose facility with a main theater, gallery space, classrooms and more. It will be located downtown and is expected to be a regional attraction and the centerpiece of a new, expanded arts district.

Warnemunde views the new facility as a tremendous addition to the town and the region, and he believes downtown can be the vibrant area town planners are expecting. And he thinks Bella Love and its offshoots are perfectly positioned to help.

“We have established a community engagement program, and community input is a breeding ground for ideas and concepts,” Warnemunde said. “We’ve done the groundwork, we have our fingers on the pulse of what the community wants, what it needs.

“This organization has evolved organically, and you can’t duplicate that. You can’t come in and create a culture or an environment and expect the same type of authentic feel, the same connection with the community. We have set out to make this Lake Norman’s cultural and arts destination, and we want to use what we’ve learned to keep that going. The problems they will face, we have already solved. We’ve already been through it.”

Wayne Herron, Cornelius’ planning director and deputy town manager, is well aware of Warnemunde and what has been achieved in the downtown area. But he also emphasized many factors must be considered in mapping out plans – and potential partnerships – for the town’s future.

Herron, acknowledging most of the current focus is on fundraising and Cain Center logistics, said he has met with Warnemunde and expects to continue conversations. But he said there are still too many unknowns to predict what approach the town will take.

“The basic concept for the arts district,” Herron said, “What will it be? What will be the boundaries? How do we plan for events? How will we market it? Everything is involved.”

Herron said partnering with a nonprofit is a likely approach, and the plan is to talk regularly with everyone currently involved to gather as much information and insight as possible.

“There is a lot to work to get through, a lot to design, probably an 18-month to two-year process,” Herron said. “Do I know how this will all play out? No.”

Warnemunde just wants to be sure town officials understand his interest.

“We want to partner with the town,” he said. “We are something the town should be comfortable with, something established. We have made the connections, it just seems logical we take the lead on this. Starting from scratch would just not make sense.”

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