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Market House decision could come early this year

‘I really would like to see a building with a purpose,’ Mayor Mitch Colvin says.

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The Fayetteville City Council’s decision on how the Market House will be repurposed could come early this year.

By a 9-1 vote in April, the City Council decided to repurpose the historic structure after months of debate.

At that time, the council directed the city to incorporate the U.S. Department of Justice City SPIRIT model. SPIRIT stands for Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together. City SPIRIT is an issue identification and problem-solving process for community leaders that can involve one- or two-day programs. 

A City SPIRIT event was held Oct. 12 and a second is scheduled for Jan. 25, said Yamile Nazar, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director with the Fayetteville-Cumberland Human Relations Commission.

The DOJ facilitator has said a report based on information from the two meetings will take approximately 30 days to complete and return to the city. 

Nazar said city management will determine when the report is presented to the City Council. 

“We are looking probably at February for that report to come out,” City Manager Doug Hewett said. “At the conclusion of that report, I think the council will make a decision on how it will be repurposed.”

On Monday, an effort by Councilwoman Courtney Banks-McLaughlin to withdraw funding for repurposing the Market House failed during a City Council work session.

The state budget adopted in November allocates $5 million to the city to help with the planning and restoration of seven historical sites and initiatives, including $1.5 million earmarked for the Market House project.

“I’m very grateful for the money we received from the state,” Hewett said. “It will help jump-start what the council decides in regard to repurposing.”

The Market House has been a divisive issue for years, mainly because of its history of slaves being sold there. Some residents want to see it destroyed while others embrace its historical significance to Fayetteville and to the state.

On May 30, 2020, protesters broke into the structure and set fire to it in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. The fire happened following an otherwise peaceful protest.

After it was vandalized, the city blocked off the Market House with fencing.

Protesters and some residents began calling for the building to be torn down. Other conversations included the possibility of moving it.

But the City Council has said the building will not be moved. Instead, it will be repurposed.

“I really would like to see a building with a purpose,” Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said. “It looks the way it looked in 1832. It really hasn’t had a specific purpose.”

Market House repairs

The Market House is ready to be reopened.

The repairs from the fire were completed in late summer, Hewett said. “I think all the furniture on exhibit was repaired, as well.”

The building incurred some scorching. Hewett said there was significant damage to the structure’s sprinkler system, which saturated the plaster and wood floors. Much of that had to be repaired, he said, especially the wood floors. Several windows and railings also were damaged.

Once those repairs got underway, prior damage to a beam and wood rot on some of the railings were discovered.

The Market House has remained fenced off.

Repurposing group

The Market House Repurposing Group was formed in late January 2021, Nazar said.

The Market House has represented a period in time when bad things were occurring throughout the nation. A history we should recall and not repeat,” Nazar said by email. “The Market House’s history has divided some within the Fayetteville community. This work becomes important in heightening awareness in hopes of creating a dialogue from which we may learn of each other’s truths and experiences.”

She said the DOJ City SPIRIT model “was implemented to take the ‘big picture’ ideas provided by the Market House Repurposing Group and identifying actual themes to repurposing, such as spoken word events and dramatizations of the Market House’s history.

“There has been dialogue related to celebrating the commerce that involved free Black people who sold their goods at the Market House,” she said.

As part of the process, multiple options have been presented.

Hewett said some of the ideas include serving as an annex to an African-American museum, closing off the arches of the building to allow for more display space, redoing it as an event space and tying in the structure with the old City Hall, located off the square on Green Street.

Others included changing the structure altogether, creating an art display, creating a Black History display and producing a marketplace for Black vendors.

“I think that we have a lot of George Floyd-flushed-out race relations in America and the community,” Colvin said. “If we’re going to talk about the history of Fayetteville, African Americans played a large role in that.”

Hewett said there are limitations with the Market House site being in the middle of an active traffic circle as well as not being accessible to the second floor under the Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The only roadblock to its reopening, Hewett said, is the issue of the fencing that encircles the building.

Hewett said he has spoken to the City Council and is awaiting direction on what its members want to do with the fencing.

“So, the first (step) is the DOJ SPIRIT report. Once that’s taken,” said Hewett, “we can take down the fencing and begin to figure out how to open it up to the public while we’re working on the repurposing efforts.

“We knew that we needed to fence it off, so that while we were making the repairs, it kept the public safe and it also kept any materials that we were storing underneath the Market House safe from damage or from theft. People were going around it and under it sometimes. The mural was twice vandalized. For a variety of issues, the Market House and the location – because of the mural and other things – was still very much a lightning rod of sorts.”

The mural, initially painted on pavement around the building following Floyd’s death, was removed in early January 2021, just days after the riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The mural, which has since been replaced, reads "Black Lives Matter" and "End Racism Now." 

“We want to be very sensitive to the report coming out in February,” Hewett said of the DOJ City SPIRIT recommendations. “I’m sure, at that point in time, the council will have very open and robust conversations.

“I think the SPIRIT report will provide us with a blueprint on how best to reimagine the future of the Market House. And to make sure that its historical significance is recognized,” he said. “But, also, too, that it is used in a way that helps us move forward as a community.

State money

With the entire $5 million allocation from the state budget, the state has agreed to assist Fayetteville in its planning and restoration of seven historical sites by connecting them and their stories with the city’s trail systems.

City spokeswoman Jodi Phelps said “the essence of the project ... is to encourage representation leveraging (of) historical sites to tell the important stories of Fayetteville. The historical sites will connect with the trail system, fully integrating them into a culturally diverse community plan enriching the dialogue.’’

Regarding the $5 million from the state, Colvin said: “It’s an initial seed money to bring professionals to the conversation and help with the planning. Five million total – that goes a long way with bringing plans and making them a reality. Any of that has to have planning.”

The other historical projects and initiatives receiving state funding include:

* The city’s greenways and trail plan

* The Murchison Road corridor revitalization efforts

* The Orange Street School restoration project

* The Martin Luther King Jr. Park

* The restoration of the E.E. Smith house

* The Wall of Honor “Umoja Wall.”

“Some of these sites are underfunded and haven’t had access to city resources,” Colvin said. “Bringing these parties to the table, I think they learned a lot from each other. We have to have diversity and inclusion in all the discussions.”

Hewett said late last month that Fayetteville leaders should know more on how the money will be spent on these other historical projects and initiatives when the state provides budget guidance in roughly 60 days.

“The council and community – the last 20-plus months and dealing with COVID – slowed down a lot of plans and activities we would love to have had,” he said. “But time served as an opportunity to be reflective and thoughtful. There are people who are ready for the fencing to come down, and there are people who think it should stay up always.

“Ultimately, where we are is trying to take a very thoughtful approach so that the committee has an opportunity to do their work and come back with the best ideas that will support the continued harmony of the community,” Hewett said. “And that does take time. But they are working hard on the DOJ SPIRIT, and we look forward to that report in February.”

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Fayetteville, Market House, City Council

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