CH@T: For Chamber’s ‘Business Person of the Year,’ bettering the community is what it’s all about

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When Taylor Hobbs III was awarded the Chatham Chamber of Commerce’s “Business Person of the Year” award late last year, it was in recognition not just for his work at Hobbs Architects — where he’s the design lead of the firm he co-founded with his father, Grimsley — but also for his civic contributions to the larger Chatham community.

This week, we speak with Hobbs about what community service means to him, his work and his thoughts about how Chatham County is changing.

Throughout his time in Chatham, Hobbs has been a member of the board of directors of a number of organizations, including the Chatham Arts Council, the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation and the Triangle Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Hobbs Architects has done work on dozens of major community-based municipal and institutional projects.

Outside of work, Hobbs enjoys swimming, fishing, coaching, working with his family on home improvement projects, and whitewater rafting.

The term “community service” is used a lot, but seldom practiced on the level at which you practice it. What does the notion of service mean to you, and how do you directly apply that idea of serving your community to your work as an architect?

Community service is a cornerstone of our office culture. Support from the Chatham County community has been foundational to our firm, and community service is our way of giving back in recognition of that support. We are very fortunate to have been able to work on some of the most important public buildings in Chatham County, and this carries a high degree of responsibility that is very important to me as an architect. We believe in the uniqueness of Chatham culture and want to help sustain it over the long haul.

Specifically, the term “community service” means contributing what you can using whatever skills you have to offer. In my case, this has meant working to better Chatham County by supporting nonprofits and serving on various volunteer organizations. I have served as a member the commissioner-appointed Green Building Task Force, the task force of the historic courthouse reconstruction project, the AIA Triangle, the Chatham County Arts Council, Pittsboro Main Street and the Chatham County Economic Development Council. My office partners also serve on the board of the Chatham County Historic Association, the Chatham County Appearance Committee and the Pittsboro Boys & Girls Club Advisory Council. All of these organizations are aimed at different aspects of bettering Chatham County, and we have appreciated being able to contribute to these efforts.

The offices of Hobbs Architects are located in the Lewis Freeman House, a historically significant property in Pittsboro. What led to the acquisition of this property, and why was it important to preserve it and use it the way you are?

Our office was located in Chatham Mills for 10 years, and when we needed to expand, there was not much commercial space on the market, so we had to get creative. When the Lewis Freeman House became available, we immediately evaluated it for use as an office since it had the correct zoning designation. Surprisingly, we found it to be larger than initially assumed and with renovations, it could serve as an efficient office. The rich history of the house had to be respected in both its story and construction, and efforts were made to keep its original fabric while making updates that were needed for a modern office. Our firm’s motto is “Preserving the Past, Designing the Future,” and we think that our office is a great example of this spirit. We are also assisting the Pittsboro Parks Department to help make the Lewis Freeman Park adjacent to our office a reality.

As an architect, what role do you feel buildings play in society and Chatham County specifically?

Buildings are fundamental to our sense of place and the values we have as a society. Among other things, buildings are where we send our children to learn, where we work, where we seek spiritual guidance, where we are entertained and where we administer law. As such, they are symbols of where societies place value.

I was never more aware of this than after the tragic historic courthouse fire in 2010. Even though no one was hurt, hundreds of flowers were placed against the construction fencing the day after the fire. What I realized was that the flowers were for the building itself and symbolized the profound grief that people felt. Many people told me how surprised they were that the loss of the courthouse affected them so profoundly on an emotional level. This building is ingrained in the cultural fabric of Pittsboro, Chatham County and the state of North Carolina at large. It represents the key role that buildings play in our everyday lives.

Development in Chatham County is getting a lot of attention. We have Chatham Park, new housing, plus the promise of what our megasites near Moncure and Siler City will bring — not to mention Carolina Core and everything else. A lot is happening here ...

As a member of the Chatham County Economic Council, I am aware of the current and future development opportunities in Chatham County. We are at an unparalleled time of opportunities and growth, and I think it is important to have a balance between big and small business.

While the larger developments are extremely important and will certainly be the engines, the medium and small businesses will make up a very important core of our economy. One of the smaller developments that will have large economic and cultural impacts is the SoCo project south of the historic courthouse in Pittsboro.

The opportunity to reconceive this much of downtown at one time is very unique and may not happen again. Siler City has similar impactful downtown projects underway as well. The vision these types of projects offer in the midst of the larger developments is important to understand when measuring progress.

Hobbs Architects falls into the small business category, and we hope to benefit from the opportunities that the larger business will foster. The EDC has a Small Business Committee that is working on the needs of small businesses within the context of the larger development opportunities, and I plan on assisting in this effort. If we get this right, it can mean a bright future for the Chatham County community at large.

You were the most recent recipient of the Chatham Chamber’s Business Person of the Year award. What did that mean to you?

This award is very special to me, and was unexpected. Cindy Poindexter and the Chatham Chamber do a great job and have been important to our firm. I am very moved by this recognition and the qualities that I believe that it represents, which are relationship building, hard work and trust. To have peer recognition of these values represents success to me beyond any bottom line on a spreadsheet. I believe that if you do things the right way, the rest will take care of itself.

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