The Michalove Memo, pt. 1: Infighting is destroying Pack Place, an Asheville institution

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Pack_Place2On Tuesday, Ken Michalove, a former Asheville mayor who was also a long-serving Asheville city manager, delivered a scathing report to Asheville City Council regarding its decision to give $2 million in taxpayer money to the Asheville Art Museum’s ongoing fundraising project to expand and renovate its space in Pack Place.

Pack Place is an Asheville institution, a unique nonprofit entity that came together in the early 1990s as an effort to bring much-needed vitality to downtown Asheville at the time. The Pack Place umbrella covered the Asheville Art Museum, the Health Adventure, the YMI Cultural Center, the Colburn Earth Science Museum and the Diana Wortham Theatre. Pack Place provided space for these nonprofits all under one roof, and the center drew people to the heart of downtown.

Over the past several years, the Health Adventure moved out and the Asheville Art Museum moved on plans for a major expansion. As the art museum has moved on its plans, the other Pack Place members have felt put out, to say the least. It’s all been happening under the radar, but Michalove brought it to a head on Tuesday. Michalove said he was hired in December 2011 as a Pack Place consultant to help work through the issues.

On Tuesday, Michalove said he resigned that position to speak out against the $2 million allocation and spotlight the issues tearing apart Pack Place. Michalove also delivered a long memo, which I will be posting here in three or four parts. Here’s the the first piece:

The proposed City of Asheville (City) Budget for 2013/14 allocates 2 million to the “Asheville Art Museum Renovations” (Art Museum); the City is proceeding with separating the lease between the City and Pack Place Education Arts and Science Center (Pack Place) into two leases, one for Pack Place and one for the Art Museum; the City is agreeing to physically separating the Pack Place building into two buildings; issues of having two leases and building separation issues have created an atmosphere of distrust towards the Art Museum among Pack Place Board members; there is limited information available about the Art Museum project and their day to day operations; there is the potential of destroying the Pack Place as an Institution; and, there has been limited opportunity for public input and information sharing regarding all of these issues. I was hired as a consultant for Pack Place in December of 2011. I have more first-hand knowledge of management, issues and operations than any other person involved. I resigned that position today in order to speak as an individual and not for the Pack Place Board regarding the state of affairs regarding Pack Place and the Art Museum. …

Atmosphere of distrust towards the Asheville Art Museum One person’s dream can be a nightmare for others. That is my assessment of the current state of affairs between Pack Place, an education, arts and science center, an “Asheville Institution”; and, the Art Museum, a Member of Pack Place that wants its independence. It appears that the Art Museum agenda for independence is paramount regardless of the damage to other Members and the Pack Place Institution. The current plan to separate the building into two buildings and to have two direct leases is a path to destroying this Institution. And, I believe that Council is giving in to sound management principles by creating a situation where the City management and Council have to deal with two organizations instead of one. Pack Place clearly has the corporate structure in place in terms of the existing lease, Council representation and funding by the City and County. The Art Museum has been unnecessarily secretive in its dealings with the Pack Place Board. There is not a good feeling of free flowing and honest information sharing. Has Council given the Board members and executives of Colburn Earth Science Museum, Diana Wortham Theater and YMI the same private audience regarding their “true feelings” about what has been going on as Council has given the Asheville Art Museum? Has Council done its own fact finding and homework? …

Destruction of Pack Place as an Institution Pack Place is a nonprofit corporation. It has a 15 member Board of Directors appointed by the Members, the City and the County. Education, Arts and Science activities are the focus. Membership (the tenants) can and have changed since the inception. “The creation of Pack Place (PP) was an open, public conversation, complete with LOTS of private donors, public help from many sources, and even a referendum vote on the ballot to create this beautiful downtown entity and institution.” The Art Museum has threatened to move out if they don’t get their way. If that is their desire there are numerous education, arts and science non-profits that would love to have this “free rent” prime real estate in downtown Asheville! In fact, the Colburn Earth Science Museum would love to have some additional space. My estimate of the market value of the Art Museum space is in the million dollar a year range if they had to rent the space. My opinion is if the Art Museum can’t live with the decisions of the Pack Place Board they should vacate the building.



Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. never avert July 1, 2013

    For most of the life of the Asheville Art Museum there was a group of women who dedicated a large part of their time, energy and money to the art museum. They disappeared without a trace. Where are they? What happened? do any of them still have an interest in this mess?

  2. Natalie Grinnell June 28, 2013

    So wonderful to hear so many educated and well-spoken supporters of Pack Place in our community! For what it is worth, there is a wonderful community opportunity to celebrate Asheville and NC history, view lovely jewelry made from NC gems and gold, and partake in tasty snacks and beer! The Colburn Earth Science Museum is hosting a Beer City Science event this evening at 5:30. Tonight features the preview to the Foster A. Sondley collection exhibit, including speakers on the topic of Mr. Sondley and his collection and one on NC gold. Admission is free, a suggested donation of $10 gets you 3 glasses of beer/wine. Perhaps many of you supporters out there will be able to attend!

    1. Sideview Sally June 28, 2013

      I agree – those of you who think science is so important, maybe more important than visual art, ought to put your money where your mouth is and donate something to the Colburn.

  3. Finally the Truth June 28, 2013

    WHAT?? $2 million for the Art museum when all we’ve heard recently is how the city’s budget is too tight??!! That is rediculous. How muh more does the Art Museum have to go until they’ve reached their fundraising goals? My guess is that $2 million is just s drop in a very big bucket. I am so thankfull that Ken Mikalove has gone public with this information. The Art Museum has been riding roughshot over the other partners at Pack Place for years – hoping that they would just give up. Yes, the Health Adventure was/is a joke – completely mismanaged and not much more that an indoor playground. But – the Theater and the Colburn Earth Science Museum are vibrant members of the Asheville community providing entertainment and education opportunities that are not available anywhere else. Asheville would be a much different place if the Art Museum is allowed to recreate Pack Place into its own vision. Yes – art is important, but it is NOT more important than science.

    1. Vlad Emrick June 28, 2013

      The Health Adventure has provided some pretty important science and health programming to students in the region for a long time.

  4. Correction June 27, 2013

    Re: “Let’s not forget that Pack Place Board gave us the way over budget and less than timely public park downtown.” That was a completely unrelated organization: Pack Square Conservancy. Has nothing to do with the non-profit cultural center offering free space, utilities, custodial and maintenance to the Art Museum, Colburn Museum and Diana Wortham.

  5. John R. June 27, 2013

    I can’t imbed an image but these are my sentiments:

    Also really appreciate Virgo Snow’s comments on this piece over at the Xpress, he brought up some good points missed here:

  6. peace is better June 27, 2013

    Ken Michalove has it wrong. The Art Museum is a major key to the Asheville downtown and the collective artistic life of WNC. 2008 was a watershed year when everything shifted. Give the Art Museum credit for its tenacity and ability to survive and thrive.

    Let’s not forget that Pack Place Board gave us the way over budget and less than timely public park downtown. The Health Adventure was an under investigated public scandal and moved to the Biltmore Mall. The YMI has been unable to maintain its commitment to the community for a long time.

    Continue to support the Diana Wortham Theater performing space since they have maintained their vibrancy, profitability and governance. They seemed to have moved on, visible by the new marquee and entrance.

    I would like to see the Colburn Mineral Museum survive through an upgrade in visibility and independence. Why the basement everywhere? Geologic time has its followers.

    1. theTruth June 29, 2013

      The Art Museum was the ONLY reason the Health Adventure left Pack Place. The Art Museum acted like a bully to force The Health Adventure out while it was struggling. They claimed that when Park Ridge Health stepped in and bought the Health Adventure, it was a new business. The Art Museum then forced a new vote on a new lease and manipulated the PP Board into voting the Health Adventure out. The Art Museum acted to further their own interests at the expense of the Health Adventure and has continued to do so since. The Art Museum’s only interested in taking as much from the public coffer and PP as possible.

  7. Dora Nelson June 27, 2013

    Thanks to both Ken Michalove and Jason Sanford for bringing these issues to light. As a city resident, I really would like to know why my taxes are going to go to the AAM while apparently nothing is being budgeted for the Colburn Earth Science Museum. I look forward to an honest and detailed response from the AAM and the city council.

  8. Vlad Emrick June 27, 2013

    This has been going on for years. Various persons associated with the Art Museum–staff and board–have in the past tried to manipulate and intimidate representatives of the other institutions at Pack Place, rattling their sabres to advance their own purposes.

  9. Vicky Ballard June 27, 2013

    Thank you for covering this story. Asheville and the whole region is poised to lose the great resource that is Pack Place.


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