Museum idea returns
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 1, 2011 1:46 PM
The Goldsboro City Council is considering buying the Arts Council of Wayne County's building on East Ash Street for use as an Air Force museum.
When the Arts Council of Wayne County bought its current building at 2406 E. Ash St. from Centura Bank in 2001, it was a location that then-Executive Director Alice Strickland hoped to grow into.
What she didn't anticipate, however, were the high costs for the council's small staff to maintain the large building.
So while Mrs. Strickland said recently she was sad to see the building, which had ample room for studios and galleries, placed on the market back in 2010, she said she understood the group's urge to move downtown.
And that's when the city got involved, Mayor Al King said, with the building's availability re-igniting the council's interest in making its Air Force museum idea a reality. He said Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials also said they liked the location because its proximity to the main Berkeley gate would help facilitate tours between the base and museum.
And as far as the civic center was concerned, King said last week that between the economy's downturn and the city's decision to focus on the Paramount Theatre and other projects, it had been placed on a back burner.
Discussions between the city and the Arts Council began in 2010 and evolved into a tentative agreement, signed Feb. 8, for the $600,000 purchase of the building, pending the city's inspection of the 14,000-square-foot facility.
The structural analysis, however, revealed renovation costs that would amount to more than $1.4 million, leading the city to cancel its original contract and draw up a new one, this time with a $500,000 offer.
As a good faith gesture, $25,000 from the occupancy tax fund was transferred to the Arts Council when the contract was presented on May 10 in what could be considered a non-refundable deposit on the building.
City officials have tapped into the occupancy tax fund, from which the full purchase price of the building will reportedly come, over the years to financially support various projects, including debt service on the Paramount Theatre and entertainment at this year's Wings Over Wayne Air Show.
The occupancy fund balance has increased steadily during the seven years since the first civic center plan was presented in 2004, from $936,930 at the beginning of fiscal year 2003-04, to $2.6 million at the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year.
The fund was listed in the city's May 2 budget proposal at $1,959,330 at the beginning of the 2011-12 fiscal year, following a $20,000 expenditure to pay engineer Jerry Hodge to inspect the Arts Council building in April to see what type of investment would be required for it to house a museum.
But while the purchase of the building is likely to come out of that fund, the cost to renovate it may not.
King said on June 9 that the city did not intend to use all of its occupancy tax fund on the project although Hodge's report, also released May 2, estimated the costs to replace the plaster ceiling, roof and windows, as well as the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems would amount to $1.4 million, for a total initial investment of $1.9 million into the Air Force museum.
King said last week he wasn't familiar with the $1.4 million estimate and that such an investment would not be made by the city.
"We're not going to spend that kind of money," he said.
King said those estimates were for making the building a high-end Air Force museum.
"That's if we hang airplanes. We may not do that. We may just make minor modifications. We have to decide what do we want to do with it. We don't know," he said of the council's Air Force museum plans.
4th Fighter Wing Historian Doc Heidicker presented a preliminary schematic to the council on June 6 with a possible option for the museum.
That proposal featured scaled down models of an F-15E shooting down a Desert Storm-era Iraqi helicopter suspended from the ceiling, two mini theaters, and the relocation of the F-86 from the police and fire complex to the museum's parking lot. Heidicker said the suspended models would need to be one-third to one-half of the size of the actual aircraft for the sake of space at the proposed location.
Heidicker's proposal keeps what Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen said was, as he remembered it, the original vision for the museum.
"The original concept was a museum to promote the 4th Fighter Wing because there's a lot of heritage there. Then we would tie in the relationship with Seymour Johnson," Allen said Thursday.
Allen said, though, the fact that eastern North Carolina lacks a true Air Force museum could factor into their plans since a facility with more of a regional following could bring in more donors, grants and revenue. An aviation exhibit at Havelock's Tourist and Event Center honors the coastal area's aviation history, but focuses mainly on the evolution of Marine Corps aviation. Still, Allen said the council will need to evaluate its options more closely before the museum's scope is set.
"We're gonna have to get into it a little bit and see," he said. "I'm for whatever will make it the most successful."
Following Hodge's presentation of his final report in May, District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick asked about hanging planes, but Hodge said the costs or even the capability of the building to hold that sort of weight wasn't known.
Hodge's summary of the report said that without the repairs, "the building will deteriorate at a much faster pace and be a maintenance and budget headache." He suggested all of the outlined repairs be performed, with special priority on the HVAC system and glass, which he estimated would cost $600,000. The electrical, plumbing and other upgrades, at $500,000, would be the next priority, followed by the $300,000 in roof and ceiling renovations.
Allen said earlier this week that he felt it was too early to put a price tag on repairs to the building since the council didn't know what type of museum it would be pursuing.
"I think it's premature," he said. "We don't have any idea what we'll spend on renovations. If we do this thing, what is the museum? Can we do (the renovations) up front? Can we do it over a few years?"
Using the existing Arts Council building, which is a reduction from the 20,000-square-foot museum concept Strategy 5 identified in its 2008 report, appears to be an about-face from the way the council was leaning when it was presented, Yewell said last week.
In fact, according to council minutes, during Yewell's presentation in 2008, Allen asked him which project should be the city's focus. Yewell said the center was the focus and the museum was just the hook.
As far as the city's current direction was concerned, Yewell said that the city could be planning to grow the museum over time.
"It sounds like they want to take a different approach from what we recommended," Yewell said of the council's decision to not combine the two projects as his study had suggested. "We thought it was a way to stand out and attract military interest groups and business from the Air Force base. I can't speak to where it's gone or why they're doing what they're doing, but they may be planning to start out small and expand."
And that's exactly what King said the plan is.
"We're not going to have the Air Force museum we want. It may be two years before we open and years before it is what we want. We have possibilities to expand all the way to Stoney Creek Park," he said, explaining the city just needs something to get the project started.
The site's potential for growth was part of its draw, he said.
The Arts Council building sits on 1.23 acres of land, and the city's purchase would include another 2.18 acres in land parcels. To connect to Stoney Creek Park, however, the city could be faced with purchasing land from up to three different owners, including the plot currently occupied by O'Reilly Auto Parts, which opened about a year ago.
And as far as the council's recent calls for backing from surrounding municipalities, King said the city wasn't looking for financial pledges, just support.
A discussion last week between King, County Manager Lee Smith and Wayne County commissioners J.D. Evans and John Bell was the extent of discussions with county officials, and King said it was only a call for support.
"We want them to support it. We're not asking for money," he said, noting that funding questions came up during the discussion.
After that meeting, Smith said that he did not know if the county could afford to address the issue of the Air Force Museum.
"They (county commissioners) have never addressed the Air Force museum as a board," he said. "The ag center has been discussed in a very surface manner. I think because it didn't get traction because or a lack of feasibility, affordability. It just never took off."
Wayne County's proposed $255.6 million capital improvement plan spreads projects over a five-year period from 2012 to 2016, including $15 million in 2014 for a regional agricultural facility.
However, Smith has warned commissioners that the plan will need to be revised in response to reduced revenues and other economic stresses on the county budget.
That makes it seem unlikely that the county would be able or willing to provide financial help towards the city's proposed Air Force museum, county officials said.
And when commissioners meet later this summer to review and revise the capital plan, even the long-desired regional agricultural facility will probably be pushed out another 10 years, Smith said.
"They didn't ask for any money, but asked if we thought it was a good idea," Bell said of the meeting with the city on the Air Force museum project. "A museum would be great. I know that we don't have any money for one."
Commissioner Andy Anderson said agreed last week that the Arts Council building is in a good location for a museum, but did identify some problems that he thinks the city can work out. Anderson stopped short of saying the county would not have any money for the project, but did say the board would be limited because of all of the county's other projects.
Bell said the city has the money from the hotel occupancy tax to utilize on the museum project. Those funds can not be used in other ways, he said.
"If you are not going to spend it like that, then what is the purpose for having it?" he said. "There is no problem with it, but right now we cannot afford it and we have other things on the table we have got to do. I'd tell anybody it is a good idea, but that does not mean that we are going to open up our bank account for it."
But how would spending a large portion of the city's occupancy tax fund affect its plans for a civic center? Not by much, Allen said, especially since the center is such a remote possibility at this point and would cost so much.
"I don't think this little bit of money is going to phase the civic center any way," he said, noting that any civic center project would range in the tens of millions of dollars.
The City Council delayed its decision on the Arts Council building purchase at its June 20 meeting, with the Arts Council agreeing to delay the deadline for a decision until Wednesday. City officials said they are taking the extra time to research an educational component for the museum, and interim City Manager Tasha Logan said that even if the council decides not to move forward with the Arts Council location, it's likely the city will still pursue the Air Force museum idea.
"It's something that's been talked about for a number of years so there would still be a strong interest, but I don't think they have another facility in mind," she said.
The council is expected to make its final decision on the building at its meeting Tuesday -- a decision that will have implications for the city, the Arts Council and a $200,000 grant the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. received to help bring the county's arts center downtown.
-- Staff writer Steve Herring contributed to this report.