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William McDowell and Gladys Knight envision Canton community center

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VIP Event - Gladys Knight & Friends 29 October 2017 Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Asheville, NC © Copyright David Simchock
Gladys Knight and husband, William “Billy” McDowell attend an October event at  Thomas Wolfe Auditorium © Copyright David Simchock

Gladys and Billy have big plans for the property. Billy purchased it in 2013, after the death of the owner. He has spent the last few years clearing out the building and the grounds in preparation for the new center. As he has fond memories of the time spent there; he hopes it will be a place to hold memorabilia by alumnae. He hopes that alumnae, community leaders and neighbors will all participate in its renovation and preservation, and be a part of the Community Center.

Billy and Gladys want the Old Reynolds High School “To be a star on the map, not just a place, but a focal point of activity and redevelopment.” Here at the Reynolds Community Center people can have a place to enjoy their favorite sport or athletic activities, learn new job skills, record or play music, exercise and walk on the trails, see friends, play cards, get health advice, and meet with their favorite organization. They hope it will be an active community center for all in the Canton area. Gladys envisions it to be a place for musical groups to perform. Perhaps one day she herself can sing and give a performance there.

According to Mike Finton, Executive Director, Phase One has already begun. An architectural rendering of what the 7 1/2 acre property could look like in the future (See photo) has been drawn up, the building has been cleared of much of its debris and some badly needed repairs done. The building was being used as a salvage yard for years and was filled with a bunch of old cars, scrap metal and other junk. A basketball court, a walking track and trails, and an ADA-accessible playground is part of the plans . Recently the equipment for a new playground was purchased, and in mid January the ground work on the new playground is scheduled to begin. The funds from the Gladys Knight/Little Big Town concert this October has allowed Phase One of the Reynolds Community Center in Canton to start. Phase Two will be the development of an office inside the Building, where windows and flooring all need to be repaired. An architectural plan is being put together.

Gladys Knight - Gladys Knight & Friends 29 October 2017 Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Asheville, NC © Copyright David Simchock
Gladys Knight, right, performs with Dionne Warwick, left, at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium © Copyright David Simchock.

Most importantly funds have been gathered from the October Concert on October 29th at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville. The evening was a sell out and lasted for four hours with visiting performers, such as Dianne Warwick and the Little Big Town. Motown legend Gladys Knight is well recognized in the world of soul music through decades with her Grammy winning titles, such as “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” At this lively Asheville concert a pre-show reception was held with beverages and hors d’oeuvres, plus access to exclusive auction items featuring vacation packages, sports and music memorabilia, local business gift certificates and more. More events are being planned. Although no date or exact location is set, a tennis tournament in California is probably the next fund raising event.

Gladys herself has always supported many national charitable organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America,the American Cancer Society and MusiCares. She would like to see these types of organizations in this building. Gladys’ concerts are all booked until 2018 with an all-out European tour in the summers. Although she and her husband have homes in Las Vegas and Fairview, they can only spend limited amount of time here, perhaps only three or four months a year.

Billy McDowell is a real estate developer with a partner in California, attended GIA and is an independent diamond and jewelry broker nationally, is a broker music artist worldwide and owns a bus company in Mills River. This company, WNC Travels, is a Motor Coach Charter Service for North Carolina and the surrounding areas. Founded in 2013 the company contracts with colleges, bands and provides trips for groups depending on their need. As he said. “I want the community center to be that special place where you know you are going to be cared for and loved.” Through his and his wife’s vision and efforts, the building is well on its way to being restored as a hub for the community.

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