By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on December 9, 2020
Three years after being purchased by SAGA Construction, the iconic His Dream Center building on E. Baltic Street in Nags Head still remains empty, its future uncertain.
But there are clues about the owner’s intent. A pending conditional use permit application by SAGA would pave the way for it to become a building contractor’s office and furniture store.
Built in 1986 by Outer Banks entrepreneur George Crocker, the building with head-turning architecture first served as a car museum. It was purchased 10 years later by the North Carolina Assemblies of God. And for the next two decades, it was used to house a number of community and church organizations, including Ruthie’s Kitchen, Outer Banks Room in the Inn homeless assistance program and Dockside Theatre Company.
In November 2017, the building was purchased by SAGA Construction for $750,000. At that time, SAGA CEO Sumit Gupta indicated that his primary goal was to see that the facility continued as a “community hub,” floating the possibility of a performance arts center and making it available for community organizations.
Ten months after the purchase, in an interview with the Outer Banks Sentinel, Gupta said plans remained on track for an opening the following summer. “I just know that, with a community focused approach and the right people involved, we have the opportunity to make this a special amenity for our area…I’m excited to have the opportunity to work on this,” he said at the time.
Still, the building remained empty. Then this past July, SAGA Construction and Legacy Home Services submitted a pair of applications to the town. One that would approve furniture stores as an allowable use for all commercial mixed-use designations was unanimously passed by the Nags Head Commissioners in September.
The other request was for real estate rental management facilities to be a permitted use within the town’s C-2 Commercial District, the district that covers the His Dream Center building. That measure was defeated.
This fall, on behalf of SAGA Construction, Cahoon & Kasten Architects submitted a conditional use application to the town’s planning board to convert His Dream Center into a commercial mixed-use development consisting of a building contractor’s office and a furniture store.
In October, however, the applicants requested a continuance until January or February of 2021, according to Nags Head Planning Director Michael Zehner.
A representative of Sumit Gupta told the Voice that the SAGA CEO is traveling and unable to respond to a request for comment on the company’s plans.
In a related development, on Dec. 4, the Nags Head Commissioners scheduled a public hearing for January on a text amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance that tightens the definition of the furniture store/furniture showrooms and further defines limitations on warehouse and storage facilities as an accessory to these uses.
Revisiting the definition was originally suggested by Commissioner Webb Fuller, who noted during an Oct. 7 board meeting that the current definition was “a little bit liberal,” and suggested clarifying the definition to specify it as a retail store that sells furniture to the public with incidental storage to the principal use. In a Voice interview, Fuller said that SAGA’s text amendment application helped spark his interest in revisiting the definition of furniture stores.
The new definition that commissioners will consider combines the terms furniture store/showroom and defines it as “a retail establishment that sells, to the general public, furniture intended to support various human activities such as sitting, eating and sleeping…”
The definition goes on to clarify that furniture, which may not be in-stock, can be displayed in large, open areas. However, it limits the amount of space that can be used for storage. The new definition also places requirements on parking spaces for such businesses.
Zehner said that if approved, the new definition would not apply to the pending application by SAGA since the application pre-dates the text amendment. SAGA, however, could apply the new definition to their project if it is approved.