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City, county ponder funding for Civil War History Center

“We need the city and county,” says Mac Healy, co-chairman of a local group hoping to bring an $80 million to $90 million N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center to the community.


Two Fayetteville residents who have been the face and voice of a proposed N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center say they believe the $80 million to $90 million project will become a reality along Arsenal Avenue in Haymount.

Buoyed by $59.6 million from the state, Mac Healy and Mary Lynn Bryan, however, say the project must secure commitments totaling $15 million from the city and the county. The Fayetteville City Council and the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners each made commitments in concept of $7.5 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

“Yes,” Healy said recently, “we need the city and county.”

The city’s resolution on Dec. 16, 2016, must be re-considered, Mayor Mitch Colvin says, because the City Council has new members. 

“A previous council passed a resolution to participate with certain conditions,” the mayor says.

City Council members in 2016 voting for the resolution were then-Mayor Nat Robertson, Kathy Keefe Jensen, Chalmers McDougald, Bobby Hurst, Larry Wright, Ted Mohn, Jim Arp, the late Bill Crisp and Colvin. Kirk deViere, now a state senator, was absent from the 9-0 vote.

Only Colvin, Keefe and Wright remain from that 2016 body.

Healy, Bryan and center consultant David Winslow met this week with Colvin, Jensen and City Manager Doug Hewett to catch up on funding from the state and to discuss when to meet with the entire City Council.

Glenn Adams, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, says the county’s resolution was valid only if construction on the center met a Dec. 31, 2020, deadline.

Commissioners voting for that resolution were Charles Evans, Marshal Faircloth, Jimmy Keefe, Michael Boose, Larry Lancaster, Jeannette Council and Adams. Toni Stewart since has replaced Faircloth on the board.

“Because the deadline has passed, the Board of Commissioners would need to take new action to approve the funding,” Adams says.

Healy, Bryan and Winslow are working to get the city and the county to re-commit to providing $7.5 million each for the project.  

Where the county stands 

Healy appeared before the county Board of Commissioners last month to update them on the project.

"This is a state museum,” Healy told county commissioners on Jan. 13. 

He emphasized that the center will be operated and maintained by the state. Healy also told the board that organizers are securing cost estimates for building construction and exhibits.

“It sounds really good we got all this money lined up,” Healy told commissioners about the $59.6 million that was included in the 2022 state budget signed into law in November. “But we are doing a new cost re-do. This is why we are coming back to you and we are going to the city. We are now on the verge of getting it done. Your commitment means the world to the process.” 

In addition to the state funding, Healy told commissioners that private pledges are around $13 million.  

Keefe and Boose say they will stand by their 2017 votes of $7.5 million for the center. Boose says he sees no reason for another vote.

“If by some quirk, we do… I will vote again to support it,” he says. “There have been some rumors that it was a conditional pledge that the group had to have their funding ‘in hand’ by a certain date. Has everyone forgotten COVID? We have been very ‘forgiving and generous’ with other county money. I would expect nothing less on this issue.”

Keefe says he still believes the N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center is a sound project for the county and an investment in the community and for the state.  

“There have been many stories told about the period before the Civil War, the war itself and reconstruction, but it is difficult to find any accurate history of the personal stories and how this war affected families, states and the entire country,” Keefe says. “I have always heard that education is the great equalizer, and I believe this center will be not only an educational center but a healing center for all of us.’’

“Sometimes history is hard and there are instances that we should not be proud of, but that does not mean that the story should not be told,” Keefe says. “I will be supporting the center at the same level as the prior resolution.”

Lancaster says he supported the initial resolution and “will make a decision for a new resolution based on the most recent information presented.”

Stewart, the board vice chairwoman, says she is waiting for the history center commission’s next move.

“Commissioner Evans requested a presentation from the committee and that was done at the last meeting,” she says. “As of now, no commissioner has put the request back on the table. In the previous resolution, the committee had to meet certain requirements. I don’t know that all of those requirements have been met. I’m reserving my decision until someone puts it back on the table and confirms that all requirements have been met. Until that time, I’m working to address our homeless issue, water in Gray’s Creek, the Cedar Creek area and other contaminated areas.” 

Evans and Council did not respond to repeated requests for comment from CityViewTODAY.

Where the city stands 

Three City Council members say they are opposed to reinstating the city’s resolution of 2016. But the council voted 7-3 on Jan. 4 to continue consideration of providing the $7.5 million toward the project.

No date has been set for Healy to meet with the entire City Council. Hewett said in an email that they are waiting on funding guidelines from the state before scheduling the meeting. 

“I was not aware that we would have to vote on this again,” says Shakeyla Ingram, who on Jan. 4 voted against the funding along with Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Yvonne Kinston. “From my understanding in our last and previous budget cycle, we removed it from our focus. I could be wrong, however, considering the state’s generous allocation of $59.6 million to the Civil War & History Reconstruction Center, there’s no need for me to lend a supporting vote to allocate $7.5 million of the city’s funds for this.”

If there is a discussion of honoring the $7.5 million, Ingram says, she will remind the council the state provided $2.7 million to the city for historic building renovations.

“In short, there are other areas we can allocate the $7.5 million,” Ingram says.

Banks-McLaughlin said at the Jan. 4 meeting that she believes the city has greater priorities.  

Wright says he still believes the funding should be considered.

“I’m not in favor of a Civil War center or education program,” Wright said.

“But I have heard the name is changed, and concepts. I think education and history is important. But if they (organizers) present something I can be comfortable with,” Wright said, he can consider supporting the project.  

Dawkins says that should the city opt to provide funding for the center, he will vote for whatever the council decides.

“I and others on this council voted to give some land to this project to count in our total $7.5 million pledge, with the caveat the land would be returned to the city if the project did not go forward,” Dawkins says. “But with $59-plus million being allocated by the state, this project appears to be going forward.”

Antonio Jones, the newest council member, says he is still learning about the project.

"Being new to the council, I am learning more in detail about this project and look forward to having discussions with the Council going forth in that regard as things progress,” he said.

Jensen, D.J. Haire, Chris Davis, Banks-McLaughlin, Wright and Kinston did not respond to inquiries about the funding.

‘I trust them …’

Healy says he thinks the center will break ground in the summer of 2023 and be ready to open in spring 2025. So does Bryan.

“It has been a very long slog with lots of disappointments along the way,” says Bryan, who is co-chairwoman of the local group along with Healy. “But I do think it will find a significant place in our community, and I hope in our state as part of the State of N.C. Division of Museums. It will be good for our community and our state. I do believe it will be built.”

The center, which will replace the Museum of the Cape Fear, is expected to bring 200 jobs, according to a center news release, and impact the local economy up to $18 million annually

“I trust them to honor their word,” Healy says about the city and the county. “I believe it’s going to be built.”

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

Fayetteville, Cumberland County, City Council, Board of Commissioners, N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center, funding