Asheville council restructures Pack Place

Pack Place (photo by Jake Frankel)
Pack Place (photo by Jake Frankel)

After months of debate, Asheville City Council voted unanimously July 22 to approve a controversial new leasing arrangement for Pack Place and its tenants at 2 S. Pack Square: Asheville Art Museum, Diana Wortham Theatre and Colburn Earth Science Museum.

The city owns the building, which was instrumental in the revitalization of downtown when it opened 22 years ago. Since then, it has been managed by a nonprofit – Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center. But on July 22 council members chose to take away the nonprofit’s management authority and offer leases directly to the organizations that call the building home.

Officials from the art museum pushed for the changes, saying it would help them complete long-term expansion plans. The 30-year lease calls for the museum to pay $147,000 over the course of five years for use of the property. After that period, the payment structure will be re-evaluated. And after three decades, the museum will have two renewal options of 10 years each.

However, the city will waive payments for three years as the museum constructs long-planned renovations.

Former Mayor Ken Michalove criticized the deal, asserting during a public hearing that the move could make the city vulnerable to a law suit “Asheville Art Museum is a poor excuse for a nonprofit. … The real reason the art museum wants a direct lease is to get out of the control and building management of the Pack Place board.”

Former Mayor Lou Bissette, now an attorney for the art museum, rebutted the charge. “I really think the art museum board deserves credit, not harassment here,” he said. “I think this is a good deal for the city. I think this is a good deal for the art museum and Diana Wortham Theater. … Things change and institutions change.”

The art museum has raised $15 million towards its goal of $19 million to fund major renovations at the facility, said Bissette.

Marc Rudow, an attorney representing Diana Wortham Theatre, said his organization supported the change. The theater’s 30-year lease can also be renewed two times for 10 years each. Starting July 1, 2015, the theater will pay $105,000 in increments over the next five years.

The art museum and the theater will divide up space left by the Colburn Earth Science Museum, which is vacating the building next year. Amid the uncertainty over Pack Place, the science museum announced earlier this year that it was looking for a different site, which is yet to be determined. In the meantime, the new lease gives it until June 7, 2015, to operate at the existing facility at a cost of $1,450 per month starting Jan. 1.

Vice Mayor Marc Hunt has previously been critical of the Pack Place nonprofit’s stewardship of the building. He was instrumental in negotiating the new arrangement and praised it.

“The city is the ultimate steward of Pack Place,” he said. “We’ve taken that duty very seriously for many months.” He added: “The success of the tenants operating at Pack place is paramount. … On balance it achieves that very well.”

It’s unclear how Buncombe County will respond to the new arrangement. Previously, the county paid much of the facility’s maintenance and operating costs by providing some funding to the Pack Place nonprofit and some funding directly to utility companies.

“The city appreciates very much the partnership of the county,” said Hunt. “We’re eager to work in the future to work similarly … to ensure the success of the building.”

However, the next day, Buncombe County Board Chair David Gantt told Xpress he thought the situation was “bad.”

The Board of Commissioners allocated $210,076 in this year’s budget for the Pack Place nonprofit to help it manage the property and an additional $180,000 to pay for the building’s utilities.

The city’s new move “does give us some heartburn,” says Gantt. “Now if we give the [nonprofits] money, they’ll just have to turn around and give it to the city.”

He reports that the commission will consider its options in coming months.

The new leases must be posted publicly for 10 days before becoming final.

In other business:

• Council heard an update from Asheville Police Chief William Anderson on the law enforcement agency’s new operating plan. He emphasized the importance of improving officer retention, reducing response times and improving community outreach efforts.

• Council revised its development policy to allow gated roads leading to single-home lots for security purposes. New gated communities are still banned within city limits.

• Cancelled a public hearing on a request to operate a dog therapy facility at the corner of Charlotte Street and Sunset Parkway in North Asheville. The request was withdrawn from the property owner after neighbors raised concerns.

For Council’s full “action agenda,” click here.

ActionAgenda072214

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning writer and reporter who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

2 thoughts on “Asheville council restructures Pack Place

  1. William Murphy

    Jake, you missed the main point. The City DOES NOT “own the building” – the building is solely owned by Pack Place, Inc. This whole hostile scheme is related to the City claiming default of certain provisions of a land lease by PP, Inc. when, in fact, no default exists. The purpose is to steal the building and its contents from PP, Inc. (possibly with no compensation) in order to force the Colburn Museum out (which worked) and give the structure to the Art Museum for its lofty, unattainable expansion goals. If you look at the Art Museum financials shown in their Form 990, Admissions Income only calculates out to about 20 paying customers a day gracing their premise. A substantial amount of taxpayer liability is getting ready to be incurred, you’ll be doing a story on that when it happens – the City has already committed $2 million from last year’s tax increase which has been surreptitiously diverted from their “Economic Development” program to a “Capital Improvements’ fund in 2017. No public budget amendment – another illegal move. This whole situation flies in the face of the private supporters who got Pack Place open in 1992 with their $millions in contributions for the concept, not necessarily their support of the Art Museum. Hopefully, Pack Place Board Chairman, Ed Hay, will initiate a blocking lawsuit before the August 1 onset of these new leases. This is virtually no different than the State taking over the City’s water system without merit – the Courts corrected that one. The Asheville media have tacitly allowed this to happen by not digging in to the complicated facts and by listening only to Marc Hunt, Mayor Manheimer, Manager Gary Jackson, and the other “officials” who, for some unknown reason, have this agenda. Smoke and mirrors.

  2. AshevilleObserver

    On the question of the ownership of the building, the Pack Place website says this:

    “In 1982 the Junior League and the North Carolina Arts Council commissioned a Cultural Action Plan. In this plan, it was decided that arts and business organizations would have to become partners to ensure long-term success. They believed this partnership might include a revitalization of downtown’s inner core. Asheville received a federal grant in 1984, the grant was to be used for the redevelopment of Pack Square. Developers immediately realized that the old Pack Library and the adjoining theatre would not fit into a redevelopment project, and urged the community to find a long-term plan for them. These buildings were eventually donated to the city.”

    Could Mr. Murphy clarify if Pack Place’s own website is incorrect? 2 S Pack Sq does not show up in the Buncombe County property listing, so it is difficult to verify the actual ownership of either the land or the buildings. It would seem if there was any ownership interest by Pack Place, Inc. as a non-profit, something would show up in the Buncombe County property listing. Pack Place’s Guidstar 990 does report building(s) at a cost of $12 million, now depreciated to $4 million, but no land. To whom does the land belong? Why have important buildings at the center of the city decreased in value, rather than increased?

    Could Mr. Murphy or the reporter clarify for readers?

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