11/09/11 — Group will eye museum project

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Group will eye museum project

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on November 9, 2011 1:46 PM

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News-Argus file photo

The city's newly acquired building, which officials say is slated for an Air Force museum

Goldsboro City Manager Scott Stevens said a committee to discuss the future of the city's newly acquired building on East Ash Street should be formed within the next few weeks.

The building at 2406 E. Ash Street, formerly the home of the Arts Council of Wayne County, has been suggested for use as an Air Force museum to recognize the contribution Seymour Johnson Air Force Base has made to the city and to preserve the history of the 4th Fighter Wing.

Stevens said he hopes to get the committee, which he said will be a small group of individuals along with an architect to assist in developing the museum concept, up and running by Christmas and said the group would likely have a presentation for the council by sometime in the spring.

Closed session minutes of the City Council, unsealed Nov. 1, reveal Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen first mentioned the possibility of purchasing what was then the Arts Council building at a meeting Jan. 18. He said the building's proximity to the Air Force base made it a good location and suggested getting the county involved to create a museum.

District 2 Councilman Bob Waller said the Air Force museum concept had been talked about for a long time and that there was no better place for it. He also said the city would be able to get a lot of community support.

Allen said the land behind the building might be available and would allow for expansion.

A committee was set up, including Allen, Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan, then-City Manager Joe Huffman and City Attorney Jim Womble, to discuss the building with the Arts Council.

The purchase was next discussed in closed session Feb. 7, when the Arts Council informed the city that it wanted to have something in writing regarding the potential purchase. Council instructed staff to have the building inspected and Allen suggested that a small group of staff members visit an Air Force museum in Florida.

Womble suggested offering the Arts Council a letter of intent to purchase the building at a price of $600,000 with a 90-day due diligence clause that would allow the city to opt out of the purchase at any time.

That letter was drafted and presented Feb. 16 during the council's retreat. Ms. Logan informed the council that the Arts Council was aiming to move downtown based on the city's purchase of its building. She then asked council to consider moving up the closing date, although the inspections department had not completed its inspection of the building.

By May 2, the inspection of the building was complete, leading Allen to suggest purchasing the building for $500,000, since Ms. Logan pointed out that the windows and heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit would need to be repaired.

Waller was still concerned with whether the county would participate in the project, while District 1 Councilman Michael Headen said the museum was a community project.

After coming out of closed session, the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase offer of $500,000.

By May 5, the council was again in closed session as Arts Council Director Sarah Merritt had communicated that the $500,000 purchase might be acceptable to her board, but added that the Arts Council wanted to occupy the building rent-free through July 31, with the organization paying only utilities and content insurance, and also wanted to close as soon as possible.

Discussion about possible partners in the project continued, although the consensus emerged that the city needed a more formal plan before soliciting support from other entities.

A proposal to search for other partners over the course of the next month was brought by King, but Allen and Ms. Logan said they weren't sure if the Arts Council was in a position to wait 30 days.

Waller suggested giving the Arts Council a non-refundable deposit for an additional 30-day period, which would serve as an option on the building if the city purchased it.

Womble suggested a June 20 option exercise date with a June 30 closing date and the council agreed to those terms.

By May 10, Allen said that, after a meeting with County Manager Lee Smith, it was his belief that the county would participate. He also said meetings with the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and the Military Affairs Committee went well, but a formal plan was needed for them to participate. He said the Chamber, MAC and Travel and Tourism were all in favor of the project.

That was when Waller first noted the council's back-up plan of simply selling the building if the project fell through.

That option is still a consideration, Stevens said Monday, as he has heard echoes of that idea ever since the purchase went through.

"The council members haven't reiterated it, but it seems we would be likely to get our money back," he said.