Living the dream

Renovating former ballroom a lesson in patience.

By Melissa Tucker
Photo by Shannon Sturgis

As Published in Sync Weekly, Tuesday, May 26, 2009

kerryupstairs.jpgLITTLE ROCK — By her own standards, Kerry McCoy could call herself a Big Dreamer.

The owner of Arkansas Flag and Banner and its upstairs venue, the Dreamland Ballroom, is still chasing her vision of re-opening the forgotten music hall.

The stage that once held B.B. King, Etta James, Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald is now covered in dust and bits of fallen ceiling.

Back in the early ’90s, McCoy bought the building for $20,000, but in the years since, has spent $300,000 on necessary repairs.

“I bought it in 1991 with a big hole in the roof and everyone said, ‘You’ve lost your shirt. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.’ I can’t tell you how many people told me not to [buy this building],” she said.

After spending enough to make the building “safe and secure,” McCoy started her plans to revitalize the old Dreamland Ballroom, but right away, discovered the project was bigger than she expected.

“Every time I go to renovate it, it’s just not quite there,” she said.

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“First it was going to be $400,000 and I didn’t have enough money, so I got enough money for $400,000 and it moved to $600,000,” she said. “It’s like a moving target.”

Now that construction costs are rising, the project has jumped to $1 million, and McCoy said the credit crisis in the financial markets has stymied her plans to get a loan.

“Right after I spent all the money doing the architect’s plans and the engineering plans and got it approved with the city, we went to the bank the very week the banks folded,” she said.

She finally decided the Dreamland Ballroom should get nonprofit status.

“It’s got a lot of angles to ask for grants,” she said. “It’s got the music angle, the black history angle, a woman-owned angle and just plain old, historical. There ought to be something in there somewhere.”

Now she just needs to raise $200,000 to take a 20 percent deposit to the bank before getting her loan.

She hopes the nonprofit status will help her raise more money and acquire corporate sponsorships. She’s started the application process with the help of a volunteer at the Arkansas Sustainability Network and expects to have it approved in the next three months.

She plans to do as little as possible to the Dreamland Ballroom to preserve its rundown beauty.
“I’m not gonna touch it. It’s going to look just like this with wood floors, chipping plaster,” she said.
“Don’t you think it’s charming, just like it is?”

She plans to add a few more stairway exits and an elevator. Visitors will be able to smoke on the third-floor landing outside.

When completed, she’ll rent out the venue for events from weddings to concerts to conferences. She regularly gets requests to reserve the venue.

“Every week someone e-mails me and asks if they can rent it or asks ‘When is it going to be open?’” she said. “Because last October I thought it would be open by now.”

Now, McCoy is in full fundraiser mode. She’s already considering categories for donors. Those that give a lot would be called Big Dreamers, and smaller donors would be Little Dreamers.

crestofdreamland.jpg“Then, we’re thinking about dream catchers and dream weavers,” she said. “There’s a lot of play on words for dreamers.”