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OA to create Southern restaurant, venue

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The Oxford American magazine has won a $290,000 grant to transform its new headquarters on Main Street (in the space formerly occupied by Juanita's restaurant) as a place for the arts, built around a branded restaurant featuring Southern cooking. The work includes audio and video equipment to record programs — music, video, literature — that can be distributed around the world.

ArtPlace, a collaboration between national foundations and federal agencies that awarded the grant, and OA publisher Warwick Sabin  envision the addition to the South Main district as part of creating a cultural destination, or "placemaking," as the grant program terms it. The magazine was one of 47 recipients of support selected from more than 2,000 applicants.

Sabin said the space, called South on Main, will offer lunch and dinner from a menu that encompasses the breadth of Southern cuisine and will host cultural programming every evening — literary readings, film screenings, concerts, theatrical performances, lectures. NPR, already a partner with the Oxford American, and PBS both want to broadcast the programming. Sabin said he'd already talked with the Clinton School on partnering on programming and planned to reach out to other organizations in the state like the King Biscuit Blues Festival and the Ozark Foothills Film Festival.

"We want to retain the character of the room, but it needs some significant improvement and updating," he said. "My hope is that we'll take this initial grant and use it to get the space in the condition we want it to be in, so that we can open by January 2013. I'm sure we'll need additional resources. But the grant is certainly a strong endorsement and confirmation of the worthiness of our concept. I'm optimistic that we'll be able to attract additional support."

The Oxford American signed a five-year lease on 1300 S. Main last November. Its business offices have occupied the second floor of the building since late last year. The restaurant and venue will only use the southern half of the ground floor, the bar where Juanita's held concerts. The former restaurant space on the ground floor will house another tenant that's yet to be confirmed, Sabin said.

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