The Buncombe County Culture and Recreation Authority decided May 20 to recommend giving $1.17 million in grants to a list of 15 local nonprofit organizations. That’s far less than the $3.86 million the nonprofits requested, but more than twice as much as County Manager Wanda Greene favors as she prepares to craft the county budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Last year the county distributed $1.88 million in such Community Funding Grants.
The Culture and Recreation Authority (CRA) was created last year to oversee the county’s libraries, parks and recreation facilities as well as work with related community partners. A special 3.5 cent property tax funds the new government agency. However, the CRA budget will need final approval from the Buncombe’s board of commissioners, which could make changes. David Gantt, who chairs both bodies, said commissioners “will give great deference to the recommendations of the Culture and Recreation Authority. … so it’s not just a perfunctory type exercise here. It’s going to carry some weight.”
The CRA voted to give the Asheville Art Museum $500,000 — more than any other applicant. The organization asked for $2.86 million to help fund a $24 million renovation of its facility downtown. Kim McGuire, who serves on the museum’s board, said it has already raised nearly $15 million, 70 percent of which came from private sources. “But central to our success is significant civic support,” she said. “The new museum will have a significant return on investment for the county.” Once complete, she estimates it will attract 200,000 visitors a year, generating an annual economic impact of $7 million.
The CRA board had some stipulations on approving the $500,000: Work must actually begin on constructing the facility, which has been discussed for a decade. The county funding “is contingent on getting started,” said CRA board member and Commissioner Ellen Frost. “That means hammers and nails.”
The CRA board voted 4-2 to approve the funding on those conditions. Joe Belcher, who also serves on both the board of commissioners and the CRA, joined with Matt Kern in voting against the funding.
In another of their biggest spending decisions, the CRA voted 4-2 (Belcher and Kern again in the minority) to give the Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center $409,076. That funding will be released in quarterly increments, and payments will only be made if the organization remains “under its current business model,” said Frost, who earned the backing of the CRA majority. “The moneys are not transferable” to any other management entity, she added.
The city of Asheville leases the nonprofit its building, and the county has traditionally paid for operation and maintenance. But the city’s lease expires on May 31 and some city leaders have been pushing for changes in the arrangement.
Several CRA members told Pack Place board members to start preparing for changes in their management structure. “My strong strong message to the Pack Place board is start fundraising,” said Frost.
“You should reach out to every person you can to make it sustainable,” added Belcher.
The CRA voted unanimously to deny Moogfest’s application for $250,000. The only for-profit venture seeking a Community Funding Grant, Moogfest owners turned in their application last week — more than three months after the Feb. 7 deadline. Some CRA members made it clear that their vote against considering the late application didn’t mean they don’t support the festival.
“I think it’s one of the better things we’ve ever done here,” said Gantt.
“I’m a big supporter of the festival,” added Frost. “But it’s an economic development matter. It needs to come before the board [of commissioners].” This year the county gave the festival $90,000, and she noted that festival organizers can apply for more economic development funds at any point in the future. In their CRA grant application, Moogfest owners revealed this year’s event lost more than $1.5 million. They’re working with the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County to produce a more detailed impact assessment, which should be ready in early June.
Many of the other organizations applied for much smaller amounts of county money, generating little discussion from the CRA board. The CRA final recommendations include:
• $45,000 for Asheville Buncombe Regional Sports Commission
• $32,245 for Big Ivy Community Club
• $16,657 for Colburn Earth Science Museum
• $4,200 for Folk Heritage Committee
• $25,500 for RiverLink
• $8,000 for The Environmental Quality Institute
• $21,000 for YMI Cultural Center
• $15,000 for WNC Communities
• $20,000 for Asheville Area Arts Council
• $10,000 for Asheville Community Theater
• $50,000 for Asheville GreenWorks
• $10,000 for Black Mountain Recreation and Parks
• $ 4,500 for Historic Resource Commission of the Asheville & Buncombe