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Cumberland commissioners put contingency on approval of history center funding

Board awaits City Council action; center advocate suggests considering another location


The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners on Thursday agreed to make the $7.5 million it has pledged for a Civil War history center contingent on whether the city of Fayetteville stands by its pledge of $6.5 million.

In response, the chairman of the history center planning committee suggested that it make look to locate the center somewhere other than Fayetteville.

The board voted 5-1 to approve the funding with the contingency, with Commissioner Charles Evans voting in opposition.

Evans said he does not think the commissioners should make any decision contingent on what the city does. And he disagreed with moving forward with the history center.

"The time is just not right regarding this," he said. "I don't think the timing is right for a Civil War museum here in this city. I don't think this is the right time."

The N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center is planned next to the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex in the Haymount Historical District. The total cost is estimated at $80 million, and the state legislature has approved $60 million in funding in its latest budget.

With Thursday's vote, the matter will be considered at the Sept. 19 Board of Commissioners meeting, according to Mac Healy, chairman of the history center planning committee.

Representatives of the history center will make another presentation to the board.

Both Cumberland County and the city previously agreed to allocations of $7.5 million each for the center. But because the city has agreed to provide some land and Civil War-era buildings for the project, the city’s proposed allocation was reduced to $6.5 million.

But on Tuesday, the City Council voted 5-5 on a consensus motion not to put the funding issue on the agenda for its Sept. 12 meeting.

However, Councilwoman Brenda McNair has since said she meant to vote to put the funding on the agenda. That would have made the vote 6-4, meaning the issue would be on the Sept. 12 agenda.

On Wednesday, City Manager Doug Hewett said the issue will not be on the Sept. 12 agenda unless the council votes to do so at the beginning of the meeting.

On Tuesday, representatives of the history center told the City Council that the $60 million earmarked for the project in the state budget would be in jeopardy should the county and city opt out of contributing to the cost.

"What they’re seeking today is a confirmation of the county’s commitment of the $7.5 million to move the project forward,” County Manager Amy Cannon said at Thursday’s commissioners meeting.

County Attorney Rick Moorefield said he realizes that “this has been ongoing for some time, but it hasn’t come to the board very often. I’ve never seen a state project — a state-funded project — where there was participation by the local government where there was not some agreement. Have we gotten any indication of something like that?”

Moorefield was told that this is the first time such an issue has come up.

Board Chairman Glenn Adams said before the county approves funding, there should be a sure commitment from the state.

Moorefield said there should be a contract.

“And you don’t have any kind of written agreement with the state?” Moorefield asked representatives of the history center.

“We have a funding agreement, absolutely,” said Healy.

Moorefield suggested that the board should review that document.

“Or, at least make it contingent upon that. I think you can do it that way,” Adams said.

Evans said it is his understanding that the state would take over the upkeep and management of the history center.

"And at that time, my question was, did we have a memorandum of agreement with the state regarding that?’” Evans said. “And, Mr. Healy, at that time, told me, 'Yes.' Is that the agreement you are speaking of, sir?”

Moorefield said yes.

“Have we seen (it)?” Evans asked.

“I have not,” the county attorney said.

Healy and other officials with the history center were asked whether they had considered their options should the city and county opt out of helping fund the project.

"What we have to do is find out from the state what options we have,” Healy said. “I'm not going to be part of building an inferior product. This tells a story they need to tell. It leaves us several options, and I'm only one person on the board.

"Can we try to go out and raise some money?" Healy asked. "I don't think we'll be able to raise in excess of $20,000. What I'm probably leaning to is talking to other people in the state and another community where they feel comfortable moving this to."

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, Cumberland County, Civil War history center