Artist bringing studio, sculpture park to downtown Wilson

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


More than a year ago, the Wilson City Council approved a plan to put a pizza shop in a city-owned property near Whirligig Park. That plan fell through, but officials gave the go-ahead for an art studio, sculpture garden and gift shop at 224 Goldsboro St.

“I never lost interest in this project,” said Elizabeth Healey, who was approved Thursday with her husband, Duffy, to purchase the property for redevelopment. “I’ve been dreaming about this for a year and a half ... longer even.”

Officials never gave a reason for selecting Pie Station over the Healey project in July 2018 and did not comment about why the pizzeria pulled out of the Goldsboro Street location in favor of property on the corner of Barnes and Douglas streets. However, during an April tour of downtown, city council members urged staff to re-approach the Healeys in hopes of getting the former service station redeveloped.

“We believe by securing the 224 Goldsboro St. property, we will help drive and promote even more tourism to downtown Wilson,” the Healeys’ proposal states. “Once the studio and store are complete, we are certain it will motivate others to want to open new retail shops in Wilson as well.”

Elizabeth Healey has been a professional artist for 21 years, building large mosaic sculptures, completing contemporary paintings and handcrafting jewelry while working on two volumes of photography, “Distinctive NC,” with her husband. The couple lives in Cary, but renovating a building for a studio there just wasn’t feasible with real estate costs in the Triangle.

“It would be half a million to do this in Cary, and I can’t afford that, to be honest,” she said. “Not only that, but I absolutely love the Whirligig Park, so I was drawn to Wilson. I’ve come to see the Whirligig Park over 100 times, and I’ve told hundreds of people about it.”

The rehabilitation’s estimated cost would be $110,000 with another $30,000 for the landscaping and art park. The city agreed to sell the property to the Healeys for $30,000 with construction starting within one month of closing and the interior completed within 18 months.

“We basically have to redo everything,” said Elizabeth Healey. “There are four walls and a roof, but there isn’t even a floor.”

The proposal states the art park, landscaping and perimeter wall for murals are expected to take an additional year to complete. The plan is to recruit a variety of artists to collaborate for installations and events.

“I’m excited to create another attraction in downtown,” Duffy Healey said. “As much as I love the Whirligig Park, I’ve noticed tourists are always asking what else they can do. Now they’ll be able to roll across the street and experience some other cool art.”

City officials congratulated the Healeys on the project after the meeting.

“I hope to use the gas station to promote other artists to come in and build this area as an art hub,” Duffy Healey said. “We’ve got good momentum and good projects going on right now.”