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Construction begins on the Latta building in Selmer

The Latta Motor Company in 1949. The Latta building of today is being turned into a the Latta Visitor’s and Cultural Center. Submitted Photo

Last week, construction began on the old Latta Motor Company, better known as “the Latta building” in Selmer. The building will soon become the Latta Visitor’s and Cultural Center.

“The Latta building plan has come to fruition slowly over the course of more than four years. It began with a series of public meetings, where citizens of McNairy County were asked to make suggestions or proposals about how the building would be used,” said Arts in McNairy (AiM) Heritage and Culture Committee chair Dr. Shawn Pitts. “It was decided that the building would become a visitor’s and cultural center.”

McNairy Regional Alliance (MRA) and Arts in McNairy, as the county’s cultural development agencies, agreed to partner in order to make the plan happen. Funding for the project was then discussed in open public forum.

The project is being funded with the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) T-21 Transportation Enhancement Grant, monies which have been reserved for McNairy County and would have gone back to the state if they had not been used to fund a proposal which met TDOT requirements.

“Other communities have used these transportation grant monies for similar visitor and cultural centers. For example, the Dixie Carter Center in Huntingdon, Tenn.,” said Pitts.

McNairy County recently purchased the building through a USDA Rural Development loan/grant. The purchase price of the building and engineering fees will serve as the match for the renovation of the facility.  This means that McNairy County’s contribution will amount to about 20 percent of the total cost of renovation while TDOT expenditures cover the rest.   

Earlier this year the plans and engineers’ drafts were approved, and now renovation on the building has finally begun.

“The Latta Visitors and Cultural Center will be the focal point for local and regional cultural tourism development as well as a hub for community arts programming,” said Pitts. 

“We can be the starting point for a tourist,” said MRA representative Russell Ingle. “The Latta building is a place where we can get them from A to B and help them plan their visit.”

 According to Ted Moore, the Economic Development Director for McNairy County, $9.1 million is spent by tourists annually in McNairy County. 

“And with the potential of the Latta building and working together with all segments of the county,” remarked Moore, “we can make that number grow. It’s got a lot of potential to have a good economic impact.”

 Pitts agrees. “It will provide a convenient place for visitors and residents to become acquainted with and participate in various cultural programs in addition to learning about various points of interest or activities that will reflect what is best in McNairy County’s rich heritage and culture.”

The Latta building itself has a rich heritage, according to Pitts: “One of the reasons this plan is so appropriate to the building itself is that when it was the Latta Motor Company, it served as a public meeting place,” he remarked.

Mr. Earl Latta, who owned the building, hosted local concerts there once a week. Huge audiences came to listen to local bands in the large space that had been cleared out for the night.

“What’s neat about that is that we’ll be restoring that same space that Mr. Latta used into a theatre,” said Pitts.

When the Latta Motor Company vacated the building, it went through a series of different owners and became various things throughout the years. Most recently, the space served as a cable television station for local programming.

 “We think it will be a great thing for the county,” said Ingle. “We’re taking a property that’s been unused for a long time and using it in a way that the whole community can benefit from.”

 “This is about promoting cultural tourism and the cultural heritage of McNairy County,” said Pitts, “We’re inviting people to learn about the rich cultural history of McNairy County and all of Southwest Tennessee through a series of rotating exhibits, community theatre programs, concerts, and things of that nature.”

MRA, AiM and the county building committee are currently structuring the usage agreement about how the new facility will be used and operated.

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