Pack_Place1Asheville city officials on Wednesday said they’re willing to negotiate with the board that governs the Pack Place cultural center in downtown, despite a letter city government sent Pack Place last month declaring the organization in default of a lease agreement and demanding thousands of dollars of immediate repairs.

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.

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27 Comments

  1. JTC, the mismanagement of The Health Adventure’s large cache of money, to the point that they had to declare bankruptcy, and be rescued once, and then continued to be mismanaged to the point that they needed another lifeboat and the rescuer basically said “fool me once, …” OR, “no, we’re not rescuing ya’ll again”, has nothing to do with the Art Museum.

    • The art museum pushed the health adventure out. They had plans, blueprints to move the art museum in like years before they left. Tha mismanaged money for momentum but they would’ve stayed there had t not been for Pam and the machine.

      • Kinda hard to figure out what you’re trying to say (spelling and grammar are not your strong suits), but the Art Museum had absolutely nothing to do with the Health Adventure leaving. The Health Adventure’s announcement was a surprise to everyone. Not sure what else you were trying to say or how you make up things. You really need to work on rational sentences.

        • There’s no need to be a douche Myles. Grammar and spelling are my strong suits, save for when I am typing on my phone. I am horrible at that and tha or THA is an acronym for the health adventure by the way.

          You believe what you would like to and I will do the same. At the end of the day all I am trying to say is that I hope that the city will allow for all the organizations in Pack Place to continue to thrive where they are, as they are. On a personal level all I am trying to say is that on a personal level I am cannot personally patronize the art museum. I am one person, the art museum represents positive, rich cultural growth and I truly hope it does just that.

      • Jtc, you can believe what you want to believe, or you can go back and look at the record and a timeline. You can also look back to quotes by the health adventure saying how much they liked the new space in Biltmore mall better than downtown and how attendance went up for them once they moved. Again, it comes down to them squandering their money and shooting themselves in the foot.

      • And the museum had plans and blueprints “years before” precisely because of the health adventure’s DELAY in moving out!

        • THA did thrive at biltmore square mall, you are so right. I guess the same fundraising issues that plagued THA that are currently plaguing the art museum. It was just how it all went down and how folks were treated who were not in positions of leadership. That’s all.

  2. Roger McCredie says:

    Jason, did you think it as odd as I did that you and I were the only media people in attendance? I don’t believe I saw anybody from Mountain Xpress; AC-T and WLOS were conspicuously absent.

  3. Is it any wonder that the state continues to exert its constitutional authority over poorly run cities like Asheville?

    Does anyone not notice that the city can’t get along with anyone or manage anything? The combination of a weak structure (weak mayor system), keystone cop council members and a do-nothing city manager afraid to lose his job produces these lame results.

    Just a few months ago, as the city was raising the tax rate, it shipped another $2 million to Pack Place. Now it is figuring out they are poorly run? Shocker.

    • luther blissett says:

      “Is it any wonder that the state continues to exert its constitutional authority over poorly run cities like Asheville?”

      That’s a complete non sequitur, given the ways in which the state has asserted that authority: either you’re a craven Moffitteer or a nincompoop.

    • Not to mention the top Keystone Cop, Chief Anderson.

    • Is it any wonder that the state continues to exert its constitutional authority over poorly run cities like Asheville?

      If you define “poorly run” as being the simple fact that the voters in NC cities tend to elect Democrats, and that the current GOP minority that has seized power is vindictive & determined to punish those concentrations of Democratic voters… No – I’m not surprised at all that there is this false narrative of “cities like Asheville” being poorly run.

      If I’m not mistaken, Asheville continues to hold a AA bond rating, despite suffering from the same economic downturn hitting cities all over the US. Sure, Asheville is struggling – all cities are right now. Continuing this drumbeat of Asheville being “poorly run” is the transparent lead-in to the endgame that Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey have already signaled their intention to pursue: the abolishment of the City of Asheville.

  4. I miss the Health Adventure and cannot come to the Art museum after what when down, the way it went down. I think the Diana Wortham Theater and the Colburn Gem and Mineral Museums, YMI are great organizations that bring a lot of depth to Asheville. The art museum is great too in terms of content, NOT leadership. I think its very important to preserve the cultural integrity of Asheville. We can’t let another boutique hotel get a hold of that spot. My childhood (and so many others) was deeply impacted by the Health Adventure, Diana Wortham, YMI and Gem Museums it pains me to think that future generations of WNC children will not benefit from what Asheville puts in the center of its city (what appears to be most important to us), Pack place. I wish the city could see the multi-faceted value that Pack Place brings to its constituents and our tourist, whom we rely on so very much.

  5. Roger Hartley says:

    This is too important for the community for this dispute to spiral as it has. It’s going to spiral and get more costly for all of us. I suggest a truly neutral mediator…perhaps the Mediation Center of WNC. The board, the council, downtown association and city management all have have interests needed a fair airing.

  6. Are the Pack Place Board members paid, and if so, how much?

  7. It’s a shame Diana Wortham decided to destroy the ambience of Biltmore Ave with that eyesore of a sign. That’s an entry point to the city for a lot of folks…what a scar.

  8. “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.”

    Actually less than a decade. I’m not exactly sure how many years exactly, but I know that they were in a “quiet” phase (this is an industry standard, I’m not making this language up) for close to a decade, but the “official public phase” has actually only been a few years, if that.

  9. Ummm,…..Carol Peterson is a “former” County Commissioner.

  10. Media Watcher says:

    Nice scoop for Ashvegas. This appears to be one of the first direct pieces of reporting, rather than press releases from outside sources, that this blog has used. Is this the trend?
    Hard for outsiders to understand what all the issues here are. The reporter only quotes Pack Place advocates, none from the City, except remarks in the meeting, if this piece is being read correctly.

    • luther blissett says:

      The three-part Michalove Memo in “related links” are a good primer here, and I’m glad that Jason published them.

      It’s a reminder that Asheville’s government is divided between City Council and the various boards and committees that expect to be given their due.

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