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Bill Kirby: A new story awaits city landmark

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You can’t help but wonder just what Courtney Banks-McLaughlin was thinking Monday when the freshman councilwoman asked Mayor Mitch Colvin and fellow council members to withhold any funding for repurposing the downtown Market House.  

Or why councilwomen Shakeyla Ingram and Yvonne Kinston voted to go along with her.  

“As of right now,” Banks-McLaughlin told the council at its work session at the FAST Transit Center, “it’s not a priority.” 

The councilwoman wasn’t gaining much traction from Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen, and council members D.J. Haire, Johnny Dawkins, Larry Wright, Chris Davis and newly-appointed Antonio Jones. 

“She’s saying she wants all funding eliminated,” the mayor tried to explain to the council. 

Well, “to put it on hold,” Banks-McLaughlin later clarified.  

No question here that Banks-McLaughlin isn’t alone in her disdain for the historic landmark, where slaves once were sold, when it was located down the block from its current location. For the councilwoman, it’s a painful reminder of the past, and a painful reminder shared by many other African Americans in this community. And controversy was accented all the more when rioters broke into the building on May 30, 2020, and set it on fire following protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.  

Some in the African American community want it demolished. Others, while empathetic, say it is a part of Fayetteville’s history, and repurposing the structure with a bent toward accurately and truthfully telling its story to include education and Black History exhibits would be a reasonable compromise.

‘Interest of the greater good’ 

Here’s the rub to Banks-McLaughlin’s thinking. In Ingram and Kinston’s thinking, too. 

On June 23, 2021, City Manager Doug Hewett in correspondence to the Cumberland County legislative delegation of Reps. John Szoka,  Billy Richardson, Diane Wheatley, Marvin Lucas and Sens. Ben Clark and Kirk deViere asked for $5 million to fund historic building renovations.

That request included $1 million for the Orange Street School Restoration Project; $500,000 for the Wall of Honor Mural ‘Umoja Wall” in celebration of this community’s historical Black leaders; $200,000 for restoration of the E.E. Smith House; $100,000 for Martin Luther King Jr. Park; and $1.5 million to create a “place to honor Cumberland County’s history in conjunction (with) the Market House SPIRIT effort and Old City Hall building on Green Street and incorporating an African American Heritage Center.”

His request also included $1.5 million for the city greenways and trail plan to support historical sites and historical stories for the city’s trail system and $200,000 for Murchison Road revitalization to support public infrastructure upgrades and adding green space for the community-connected trail system.

The projects were funded in the state budget signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in November, including the $1.5 million earmarked for the Market House project.

Hewett was clear in his correspondence. 

“The Fayetteville Diversity Coalition believes there is value in the truthful and honest telling of the city's history,” he wrote. “The preservation and restoration of these historical sites is in the interest of the greater good of the Fayetteville/Cumberland community for the benefit of future generations. This effort more fully integrates these projects into a holistic community planning and dialogue initiative propagating a community-wide meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion conversation.” 

Epilogue 

Today, the Market House, where protestors camped out for more than a week, remains shuttered and surrounded by fencing as an ugly reminder of spring 2020. The Department of Justice soon will weigh in on just what it believes its repurposing will be. When it does, the funding is there. 

“If we take all the funding away from it,” Jensen, the mayor pro tem, told Banks-McLaughlin, “it just stays the way it is.”  

Jensen would join with council members Haire, Dawkins, Wright, Davis, Jones and the mayor in denying Banks-McLaughlin’s request to hold back dollars for repurposing the Market House. 

“The body has already taken action to move forward to repurpose it,” Colvin reminded Banks-McLaughlin of a previous vote. 

Repurposing the old landmark that has been shuttered 587 days is a priority with a purpose, and a story anew to be told for a city’s tomorrow’s ahead and for generations to come.  

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.   

Fayetteville, City Council, Market House, state budget, Bill Kirby Jr., column

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