(Photo by Scott Hewitt)
The building sat empty for five years, the plaster eroded, the walls cracked and hiding who-knew-what kind of damage.
That was the situation when the founders of Painted Stave Distilling toured the old Smyrna Theater while looking for a place to build their distillery.
“For a small business like us, it seemed very daunting,” says Mike Rasmussen, one of the co-founders. He was about to leave for an industrial park when Ed Ide got them to stop. “I think we can work this out,” Ide said.
In 2013, the Painted Stave building became the first of the big Ide projects in downtown Smyrna. Since then, Ide has become known as the downtown Smyrna guy, a one-man revitalization crew.
He’s a civic minded guy who wanted to move the town in a positive direction, says Rasmussen. Rasmussen also says Ide is totally crazy to take on these projects.
Ide just laughs.
“I like complicated projects,” says Ide, an engineer and owner of i3a, an engineering and construction management company in Smyrna. i3a is known for designing and building fire houses, police stations and office buildings. The theater was a different creature.
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Rasmussen and his partner with Ide and his wife, his brother and sometimes his teenage daughter took to the project. They ripped down walls and old drywall, replaced and repaired old fixtures, and turned the place into a show place, a gallery the stave uses for events. Throughout the rehab, people just showed up to help, many with stories of Saturday movies and first dates at the theater.
As the project neared completion, members of the Smyrna Town Council approached Ide with a proposal. Through abandonment and failure to pay taxes, the town had acquired several old buildings that needed lots of work. The city would sell Ide three buildings on Main Street if Ide would agree to buy the building on the corner and renovate them all. The agreed upon price was $1.
“It was more exciting than any of us anticipated,” says David Hugg, town manager. As luck would have it, someone in town wanted to open an upscale restaurant, another a bakery. Ide started the projects with tenants in his pocket. Still, the 300 year old buildings—several of them adjoining—were wrecks. “Ed didn’t see them as dilapidated buildings,” Hugg says. “He saw them as opportunities.”
Ide says it was a case of one building leading to another. The Painted Stave on Commerce Street, the Drunk’n Baker on Main and The Inn at Duck Creek across the street were all projects that most people thought of as demolitions—until Ide came along.
It took two kickstarter campaigns and some help from the city to secure a no-interest loan from the USDA for the project, but much of the space was saved. The copper-roofed turret on the restaurant shines like a beacon of success.
“These buildings should be brought back to their former glory,” says Ide. From repointing bricks to hanging towel dispensers in the bathrooms, Ide often worked late into the night, through weekends and on holidays, always with a line of people trickling in to bring a snack, check the progress, tell a story about the building.
It was the stories and the challenges of the unknown that kept Ide going back.
No matter what happened—discovering rooms full of bats or weird closets that turned out to be stairways—Ide always assured his partners everything would be fine, says Donna Ignasz, one of the owners of the Inn at Duck Creek.
“He’s like Mr. Wizard,” says Ignasz, who agreed with another’s description that he’s a cross between a magician and Santa Claus for the town. “If he says it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. There used to be a lot of Doubting Thomases. There aren’t any more.”