At a meeting of about 20 people, including elected officials and cultural and arts leaders, Mayor Esther Manheimer told Pack Place board members that it is “more appropriate to think of this as a dialogue.” Manheimer told the group meeting in Pack Place’s board room this morning that the city was “flexible,” though she and fellow Asheville City Councilman Marc Hunt spelled out specific terms they said were not negotiable. The lease ends May 31. If you find that you want to rent a business space and you need a commercial lease, you might want to get in touch with someone similar to these commercial law solicitors to help you get set up.
Edward Hay, chairman of the Pack Place board and a former City Council member, said his board would put together a counter-proposal. He told the Asheville Citizen-Times last month that the Pack Place complex was in good condition and that his board was not in default of its lease.
The nonprofit Pack Place Education Arts and Science Center was created more than 20 years ago on Pack Square to design, fund, build and manage a new cultural center on Pack Square. Pack Place opened in 1992 in a a sprawling building home to a group of nonprofit arts and science partners. It was a key part of a plan to help revitalize downtown, which at the time was struggling to bounce back from a severe decline. Pack Place is now home to the Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Theatre and Colburn Earth Science Museum. Another partner, the YMI Cultural Center, is located in a separate building nearby on Eagle Street.
For the past year, city officials and Pack Place have been trying to work out the details of a new, direct lease between the city and the art museum, as well as a separate lease with Pack Place. Manheimer and Hunt called the current working relationship among Pack Place partners dysfunctional. A new lease agreement with Pack Place should include a terms that spell out how building maintenance will be funded, specify the rights and responsibilities of member tenants and clearly state who will exert management authority, they said.
The vibrancy of the building and its tenants is at stake, Hunt said. “The letter was sent to make sure Pack Place Inc. was on notice” that City Council was serious about seeing those issues addressed, he said.
Pack Place member institutions have been butting heads since the art museum expanded into space vacated by a former tenant, The Health Adventure, which moved out after declaring bankruptcy in March 2011. The art museum has been trying to reach a fundraising goal of about $22 million for the past decade, and says it has about $13 million now. Last year, Asheville City Council voted to give $2 million in taxpayers’ money to the art museum expansion effort.
When Pack Place was created, city taxpayers approved a $3 million bond referendum for the land and building. Pack Place assumed responsibility for the upkeep of the building, and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners agreed to use taxpayer money to fund operation of the building. This current fiscal year, the county gave Pack Place $385,000 of taxpayer money to that end.
John Ellis, executive director of the Diana Wortham Theatre, said Pack Place members have yet to see any new direct leases, despite the fact that the city has been working on those leases for the past 12 months. The Pack Place members can’t reject what they haven’t seen, he said. The Pack Place board has endorsed the idea of a direct lease between the city and art museum, but has not voted on the issue.
Vicky Ballard, head of the Colburn museum, said she was surprised to hear that City Council was willing to negotiate after its default letter. “When we were approached with the direct lease proposal, it was my understanding that this was happening.” She said the Pack Place board had been a good steward of the building.
Barbara Field, another former City Council member and Pack Place board member, told Manheimer and Hunt that she was angry at the city’s tactic of declaring Pack Place in default of its lease. Field, an architect and chairwoman of the Pack Place building committee, created a list in response to a Pack Place board request for current and long-term building improvements. She accused the city of stealing that document, one that was a list of current needs, as well as a wish-list for future improvements.
“You have basically stolen that from me and you are using to blackmail Pack Place. I’m really really angry. Make your own damn list,” she said.
“I cannot understand how you can find Pack Place in default for deferred maintenance,” Field said, noting that it had been addressing roof repair issues. She told city officials to “find another excuse” to end the lease agreement. “That doesn’t count and doesn’t matter and is complete fantasy on the part of City Council.”
In its letter last month, city manager Gary Jackson told Pack Place that it had 60 days to pay the city $419,800 for repairs, and had 12 months to pay the city $389,400 for more repairs.
David Worley, a Pack Place board member, said the city’s letter had endangered continued funding from the county, money that will be funneled through the new Culture and Recreation Authority.
“The actions that have been taken have shifted the dynamics and does jeopardize county funding,” he said. “Our greatest fear is that the loss of that funding would put us out of business.”
Carol Peterson, a former Buncombe commissioner, said continued county funding of Pack Place “is a hot topic of conversation right now among commissioners.”
Michael Andry, a Pack Place board member, told the group Pack Place has been successful in its mission of growing its member institutions. He said he disagreed with any assessment calling the Pack Place institution broken.
“It is a little frustrating to hear Pack Place called dysfunctional or say Pack Place is broken. There are challenges and we’re getting there, and we were almost to a solution almost six months ago with a direct lease with the art museum,” Andry said. He urged everyone to move forward in “an open and collaborative way.”
UPDATE Feb. 20: Corrected reference to Carol Peterson, who is a former Buncombe County commissioner. Thanks to Davyne for the correction.