10/21/10 — Council will sell building

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Council will sell building

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 21, 2010 1:46 PM

The Arts Council of Wayne County will offer for sale the building it has occupied for the last 10 years, citing growing maintenance costs and the need for expensive renovations.

The council's board of directors debated options for more than a year before deciding to sell the 13,000 square-foot, 3-acre property at the corner of Ash Street and Spence Avenue, executive director Sarah Merritt said.

It would take about $1 million to repair the roof, replace the heating and air conditioning system and conduct other necessary renovations to the building, she said.

The council pays about $2,000 a month for utilities costs, but does not pay taxes on the property because of the Arts Council's status as a non-profit.

The Arts Council's budget is about $220,000 a year, drawn from city, county and state funding and additional grants and local donations from individuals, businesses and foundations. The organization balanced its budget for the 2009-10 year and does not have any outstanding debt, but the cost of calls to maintenance workers adds up, Mrs. Merritt said.

"At least once a week, someone has to come," she said.

The council will stay in the building until it is sold, and will continue working to offer free and low-cost programs to benefit the community. The move will not disrupt or stop the organization's work to support the arts in Wayne County, Mrs. Merritt said.

"We might be moving, but we're not going anywhere," she said. "If anything, it's going to get stronger and better."

The current building, an old bank built in 1973, underwent some major plumbing renovations and other work when the Arts Council purchased it and moved in 10 years ago. However, the facility is too large for the council at this time, officials said.

"It's a huge building for what our needs are," Mrs. Merritt said.

A building of about 7,000 or 8,000 square feet would suffice, although having the larger space has "spoiled" the council, she said.

"We try to use every available space," but there is also some unusable space in the current building, Mrs. Merritt said.

The board members have discussed whether to rent or buy the council's next property, but are not at a point of deciding on a specific location. The board does plan to keep the council headquarters in Goldsboro and may consider moving downtown, as long as the right building is available, Mrs. Merritt said.

"We haven't committed to anything yet, we're trying to keep our options open," she said.

Whereever the Arts Council of Wayne County moves, officials do not want to end up in a repeat of the organization's current situation - facing very expensive maintenance problems, she added.

Other options the board discussed before deciding to sell included creating a capital improvement fund and finding a partner to share the space and cost of building upkeep. Neither approach panned out, Arts Council of Wayne County President Al Grisette said.

"To try to raise half a million to $1 million, it just doesn't appear to be very feasible," he said.

Not many arts councils in North Carolina own their own building. Only about 30 percent do, and many of those have recently had to sell the properties due to financial troubles, Mrs. Merritt said.

Selling the Arts Council of Wayne County building is a proactive move meant to stave off future economic struggles, and Mrs. Merritt is optimistic about selling the property. She has "put out feelers" with several sources, informally, but the board does not currently have a specific buyer in mind, she said.

City and county maintenance workers have helped keep the building maintained through the spate of problems with the heating and air conditioning system and other issues. Otherwise, the costs would have been even higher, Mrs. Merritt said.