Community Center in NC

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The Canton community nurtured McDowell, who went on to own jewelry stores, work in real estate and now helps run an artist development company with his wife, legendary soul singer Gladys Knight.

CANTON, N.C.– William McDowell says he wouldn’t trade the Western North Carolina mountains of his youth for a hometown in Beverly Hills.

The Canton community nurtured McDowell, who went on to own jewelry stores, work in real estate and now helps run an artist development company with his wife, legendary soul singer Gladys Knight.

“When I left this small town, I had the confidence to do anything that I wanted to do,” he said. “I was just at the White House for Michele (Obama’s) birthday party, and I looked around thought, how did I come from this town and get here? How did I get the confidence to do that? The confidence came from that place.”

McDowell now plans to return this investment: He aims to transform the Reynolds School property on Reynolds School Road in Canton into a vibrant community center. It’s a project that will “show we do have some pride in what we own and the blessing of how people treated me growing up,” said McDowell, who grew up 20 yards from the school.

He envisioned it as an “all-service” building, where Knight would love to teach music classes for kids, McDowell noted. Or children could take etiquette courses or the elderly could walk safely around a new track.

The track is the first on McDowell’s to-do list, which he estimates will total about $2 million. “I want to have the football field cleared,” he said. “One of my uncles asked to put a track there so the elderly could walk there. I want to have that all done by the summer.”

He wants the community to play a large role in programming and final vision and will host a series of meeting for input, he said. McDowell also wants to employ as many local businesses and people as possible to help with construction and operation.

He also plans to raise money for the project, and he and Knight aim to stage a benefit concert in Asheville in the spring or summer to help with costs. Knight and McDowell bought a home in Fairview in 2005 but live and work primarily in Las Vegas.

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